Lot 33: ROBERT BROUGH R.A., A.R.S.A. (SCOTTISH 1872-1905) HARBOUR SCENE 26.5cm x 35.5cm (10.5in x 14in)
December 8, 2016
Edinburgh, United KingdomLive Auction
ROBERT BROUGH R.A., A.R.S.A. (SCOTTISH 1872-1905)
Oil on panel
26.5cm x 35.5cm (10.5in x 14in)
Exhibited:Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums, Robert Brough, 1995, no.47
Note: Robert Brough is surely one of the most underrated Scottish artists of the late 19th century. Born in Invergordon, he showed talent at an early age and trained at the R.S.A. schools in Edinburgh, where his early work exhibited the influence of the Glasgow Boys and French Realists. A fellow pupil was S.J. Peploe, with whom he struck up a friendship, and, in the summer of 1894, the pair travelled to Paris and enrolled at the Atelier Julian.
Though much of Brough''s Parisian work has been lost, what survives evinces the influence of the Impressionists and a pioneering use of light.
During the year he spent in France, Brough also visited Brittany and must have been aware of the startling work being produced by Gauguin and others at Pont-Aven, which had caused such a stir in Parisian art circles. Several of his works of this time owe something to the revolutionary doctrine of the Nabis and the principles of Synthetism and position him with Bevan and O''Conor.
Returning to Scotland at the end of 1894, Brough continued to study at the R.S.A. and exhibited his portraits to some acclaim. Interestingly though, at the same time his more avant-garde works were finding favour abroad, particularly in Munich and he was also commissioned to work for the periodical The Evergreen, run by Scottish Arts and Crafts pioneer Patrick Geddes.
However, economic necessity dictated that Brough should become a professional portrait painter and among his first commissions were a series of portraits of the Crombie family, who became important patrons. Nevertheless, while in his portraits Brough was influenced by Velasquez, in other work he began to experiment with what he called ''fantasies'', similar in flavour to Whistler''s nocturnes.
In 1901 Brough moved to London, renting one of the Rosetti studios in Flood Street, Chelsea. Here he came under the influence of John Singer Sargent, a neighbour who shared his admiration for Velasquez and, within two years was fully established as a portraitist, both in London and Scotland. Such mercantile families as the Crombies were now joined by new patrons from the Scottish gentry. But despite this success, Brough began to find portraiture tedious and longed for less constraining genres.
In April 1904 a trip to North Africa prompted a series of watercolours in the style of Arthur Melville. Brough stayed there with the Cavendish Bentincks, enjoying an aristocratic lifestyle and an account of the journey is related in the journal kept by his fellow traveller, the artist George Percy Jacomb Hood, With Brush and Pencil. In the Moroccan works Brough abandons portraiture and allows himself to explore subject painting and local scenes. As with Melville, form is sacrificed to light and colour, creating a powerful sense of place and immersing the viewer in the atmosphere of the Moroccan streets. These works are among the most innovative and tantalising of Brough''s oeuvre, which direction he would subsequently have taken, however must remain open to conjecture.
Tragically, Brough''s promising career came to an end less than a year later when he was involved in as serious rail crash, while returning to London from a commission in Peebleshire. Badly burnt, he died in hospital the next day at the age of 33, with Sargent at his bedside.