A meticulous study of nature is demonstrated in John Brett's Rocks on the Foreshore, circa late 1860s. The gray rocks and ochre inter-tidal vegetation fill the majority of the canvas, save for the thin strip of blue sky and the appearance of troubled water in the distance. Brett represents the complexity of nature in a manner true to Ruskinian ideals. Brett masterfully renders the blue shade in the rocks, the lavender in the sky, and the warm-gray tones of the clouds. These are not the generic rocks and clouds painted in flat tones found in Courbet landscapes but specific elements with scientific observation. In "Science and Religion in the Pre-Raphaelite Work of John Brett," Mike Hickox argues religious undertones exist despite the apparent meteorological study of Brett's landscapes. A sense of movement and emotion are evident in the brush strokes, reflection of color applied to the rocks and wind-swept waves. although Christopher Newall believes "Pre-Raphaelite landscape is the product of a scientific culture," it remains possible that the rocks exist without any more meaning than their scientific qualities.

Questions

1. If a religious undertone does exist, as Hickox believes might be the case, what is Brett trying to express? Could a parallel be drawn between the rocks and the foundation of Christianity?

2. Many Dutch and Flemish painters of the seventeenth century who travelled through the Alps produced impressive landscapes where the subject was almost exclusively mountainous formations. While also scientific studies, they both furthered their range of skill and provided studies to incorporate in later paintings. To what extent do these older northern traditions influence Brett's landscapes?

3. What type of market, if any, could embrace this style of landscape? Would it be embraced for its aesthetic quality as a painting, or scientific study of geographical elements?

4. How does Pre-Raphaelite landscape become the product of a scientific culture, as Newall states?

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Victorian Web Homepage Visual Arts John Brett paintings by artist

Last modified 16 September 2004