The Cloisters of Airvault Church

The Cloisters of Airvault Church by Sir Frank Brangwyn RA RWS PRBA HRSA, 1867-1956. Etching on zinc, 30 ¼ x 23 ½ inches. Source: Sparrow, Prints and Drawings by Frank Brangwyn, facing 152.

Commentary by Walter Shaw Sparrow

"St. Leonard's Abbey" . . . . should be put side by side with Brangwyn's study of Romanesque cloisters in a noble church at Airvault, Deux-Sevres, a town remarkable also for a Romanesque bridge of the twelfth century, le pont de Verrmy. Few etchings, old or new, blend together so much architectural might with so much original mystery, and there's little trace of those emphatic dark plots which Brangwyn is apt to use when he is greatly moved by decorative aspects of his light and shade. A religious ceremony has attracted to these cloisters broken mendicants of many sorts, with cloaked and hooded women who carry tapers. All this human desolation is made real with passion, receiving more time and thought than Brangwyn has given to any other plate. Yet I am not drawn into the drama that this poverty and misery represent, and I must say why if the right words come. It seems to me that these human figures, which express deep sincerity and grave meditation, come more from Brangwyn himself, his inner consciousness, than from that alembicating observation, that intellectual grip on observed character and other truth, which, when quintessenced and raised to the highest power, enable artists to reveal the heart's tragedies as well as great outward aspects of high drama. I believe, too, like W. R. Lethaby, that "a characteristic of a work, of art is that the design interpenetrates workmanship, so that one may hardly know where one ends and the other begins." In "Airvault Church," unless I misjudge it, workmanship and design, the whole motif and purpose, do not yet achieve complete oneness, as their human element is not yet quite whole with the architectural parts, whose inspiration has intense magic. [151]

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. Prints and Drawings of Frank Brangwyn with Some Other Phases of His Art. London: John Lane, 1919. Internet Archive version of a copy in the Ontario College of Art. Web. 28 December 2012.

Last modified 28 December 2012