John Brett was a young associate of the PRB. As Barringer notes, Brett exhibited his tendencies toward Pre-Raphaelitism as early as 1853 (74). In 1856, at 25 years old, he produced his first exhibited painting The Glacier of Rosenlaui. He depicts a glacier carving through the stone-formed landscape, with a detailed foreground of stone debris, long displaced, cleansed by the rain, sun, and snow. On the left side is a towering stone formation. Its peaks are a fair distance from the glacier's ancient grind, capped with dark vegetation and trees. On the right side, the glacial expanse fades to a cloudy distance as vague as the faded mountain-peak silhouette depicted in the upper-center of the painting. From the meticulously-painted stones in the foreground to the tower's formations carved by the glacier centuries ago to the glacier's ridges and crevasses fading to the distance, scale is ambiguous.

Two years later, after Ruskin commended his second major work The Stonebreaker and urged him to travel to Italy to paint landscape, Brett produced the Val d'Aosta, a painting of great scale and distance but of a much different caliber than The Glacier of Rosenlaui. From the colorful lichen, boulders, grass, and birch trees in the foreground to the trees, terraces, and mountainscapes as the eye travels miles away, Brett meticulously recorded this vast distance.


1. How else does the difference in scale affect the viewer's reading of each painting?

2. Although Ruskin initially commended Val d'Aosta, he later admitted that the painting was too photographic. What would Ruskin say of The Glacier of Rosenlaui?

3. In addition to the fact that these two contrasting paintings were produced just two years apart, it is also interesting to note that Rosenlaui Valley and Val d'Aosta are separated by just a couple hundred miles of European Alpine. Given that Brett was evolving as a young developing artist, what influences are apparent in his Val d'Aosta after the progression of these two years?

4. Truth to nature. Paint what you see. How are these Pre-Raphaelite standards evident and to what degree of success does Brett incorporate them in each of these paintings?

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Last modified 6 February 2008