Old Houses, Ghent

Old Houses, Ghent by Sir Frank Brangwyn RA RWS PRBA HRSA, 1867-1956. Etching. Source: Sparrow, Frank Brangwyn and His Work, facing 124.

Commentary by Walter Shaw Sparrow

" Old Houses at Ghent " (No. 64), etched on a large copper plate . . . is known everywhere as a very fine achievement, uniting to-day's industry with a lace-work of many-windowed architecture that used to be the Spanish Guild. A timber bridge, quite new, yet not discordant with old times, connects a busy foreground to the veteran houses, one of which has a stepped gable, while the other has a gable carved and adorned, such as we find in some Queen Anne buildings, so called. Windows are so numerous that the frontage has at least as many voids as solids, as much glass as wall. Yet Brangwyn, with his usual felicity, has revealed body and weight where most other etchers would have seen a sort of airy, fairy structure, unsubstantial as a dream almost. Body, weight, growth, rhythm, and the soaring flight of Gothic, that skylark rise and song of Christian architecture — these are attributes of great building that appeal most strongly to Brangwyn, as to Girtin, and he makes them real by various means in his finer plates. " Old Houses at Ghent " belong to a technical inspiration very similar to that which I have noticed (pp. 131, 132) in "Old Hammersmith" (No. 128), though there is a difference of poetical feeling and allure. Sunlight is all-important to " Old Hammersmith ": it composes and orchestrates a good part of the whole living design, while light and shade in the earlier work have for their mission the gentle honouring of noble old age with its charmed and charming decrepitude. Henri Marcel says no more than is quite correct when he notes that the melancholy charm of decrepitude has rarely been handled with such a fond caress as in these "Old Houses at Ghent." [143-44]

Brangwyn, in 1906, discovered his own etched style by producing his "Old Houses at Ghent" (No. 64), and when, two years later, by achieving "Old Hammersmith" (No. 128), he improved this happy style — a duet between his own manner in pointwork and in printing — we all got from him a standard by which to judge his later etched work; and a standard all the more valuable to us, and to himself also, because it was not hard and fast, not mannered and procrustean, but supple and plastic, and rich with possibilities. [153]

Formatting and text by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit Internet Archive and the Ontario College of Art and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Sparrow, Walter Shaw. Frank Brangwyn and His Work. New York: Dana Estes, 1911. Internet Archive version of a copy in the Ontario College of Art. Web. 28 December 2012.

Last modified 28 December 2012