Carthillon Cliffs by John Brett. 1878. Oil on canvas. 45.7 x W 91.4 cm. Royal Holloway, University of London Picture Gallery, Accession number THC002; purchased for Thomas Holloway, 1883. Described by historian Caroline Bingham as "the only Pre-Raphaelite painting in the collection" (52), this rocky coastal scene is typically detailed in its depiction of the craggy boulders teetering at the land's edge, conveying their grained and mottled surfaces against the blue of the sea on one side, and the heathy land on the other. The sheep lend the scene just a touch of life, enough to indicate the human presence in this ancient landscape.

The painting in its frame.

Such coastal scenes were intensely alluring to Brett: the brief Guide to the Picture Gallery explains that he concentrated on capturing them throughout the period 1870-1901 (the year he retired from the Royal Academy), and that the public greatly appreciated them too. The guide further explains,

Brett's extraordinary rendering of the of the natural world on canvas owes much to his working methods.... Beatrix Potter recorded that he made oil sketches of coastal scenery from a sailing yacht during the summer months and worked them into complete paintings during the winter.

The guide adds that the "glow" of the picture, especially noticeable among its darker neighbours here, was "an effect Brett created by applying his paints over a white ground."

Photographs and text by Jacqueline Banerjee, with thanks to the Picture Gallery for allowing photography. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and the Picture Gallery and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Related Material


Bingham, Caroline. The History of Royal Holloway College 1886-1986. London: Constable, 1987.

Guide to the Picture Gallery (available at the gallery in March 2019).

Last modified 12 June 2020