Sir Frank William Brangwyn (1867-1956)

Biography

Sir Frank William Brangwyn was born in Bruges, Belgium, where in 1865 his father William Curtis Brangwyn had received a commission to decorate the Basilica of the Holy Blood. In 1875 the family moved back to England.

His artistic training received firstly at his father's studio, and later from the famous artist and architect William Morris, but he was largely an autodidact without a formal artistic education. When, at the age of seventeen, one of his paintings was accepted at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, he was strengthened in his conviction to become an artist.

Initially he painted traditional subjects about the sea and life on the seas. His canvas, Funeral At Sea won a gold medal at the 1891 Paris Salon. The limited palette in this painting is typical of this so-called "grey period".

The striking change in his palette occurred when he was attracted by the Orientalism. As many painters he was attracted by the light and the bright colours of the southern countries. He travelled to Istanbul and the Black Sea, by working as a deck hand for his passage. He made many paintings and drawings, particularly of Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey.

In 1895 the Parisian art dealer Siegfried Bing, who started the Art Nouveau movement, encouraged Frank Brangwyn into new avenues: mural paintings, stained-glass windows and carpet designs. By his austere, but decorative designs he was recognized by continental and U.S. critics as one of the top artists of modern art, while British critics were puzzled how to evaluate him.

Brangwyn is best known for the British Empire Panels, a work originally intended for the Houses of Parliament at Westminster, but refused because "too exotic", is now housed in the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea.

He painted the murals inside the dome of the Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City, Missouri, and also completed a series of mural panels for the chapel of Christ's Hospital.

Along with Diego Rivera and José Maria Sert, he was chosen by Nelson Rockefeller to decorate the concourse of the RCA Building in New York City (1930-34) with murals. A sequence of large murals on canvas is held by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Dunedin New Zealand. There are also works in Olveston (house) in the same city. He was also chosen for the decoration of a luxury liner.

Brangwyn was an artistic jack-of-all-trades. As well as paintings and drawings, he produced designs for stained glass, buildings and interiors, and was an illustrator of books.

He didn't constrain himself in one artistic direction, always daring to be different whatever the consequences. The chiaroscuro contrasts in his engravings remind us of Giovanni Battista Piranesi or Rembrandt. Other paintings show the influence of Eugène Delacroix, while in later periods he went through styles of impressionism, fauvism, Art Nouveau, the first Vienna Secession and even expressionism. That is probably the main reason why someone who had a dazzling virtuosity in all his works, was so quickly forgotten: as an outsider he was too difficult to pigeonhole.

In Bruges, Belgium a museum is dedicated to his works. He had kept a special bond with his native city, that had given him a honorary citizenship in 1936, and bequeathed to Bruges a large number of his works.

Sir Frank William Brangwyn died in 1956.