In the Channel Islands by John Brett. Oil on canvas, 28 ½ x 48 ½ inches. Courtesy the Maas Gallery, London. Provenance: Joseph Chamberlain; Agnew; Christie's 21 June 1918 (97); Mitchell; Purchased by the grandfather of the present owner. Click on image to enlarge it.

Maas Gallery Commentary

In the late summer and autumn of 1874, Brett took his family to Guernsey for his annual ‘painting campaign’. The trip resulted in several smaller exhibited paintings that year, and in 1875, four or five larger, more ambitious pictures. These included his seven- foot-wide Spires and Steeples of the Channel Islands, set in Moulin Huet Bay (now lost), and the slightly-smaller-than-ours On the Coast of Guernsey, dated 1875 and inscribed ‘from the cliffs over Moulin Huet’ on the back (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). The larger picture caught the attention of John Ruskin, who praised the ‘extreme distance’ captured by Brett as ‘the best bit of sea and atmosphere in the rooms. The paint [is] ... laid on with extreme science in alterations of colour’.

Our picture, exhibited at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 1876, is the last from his 1874 trip to Guernsey, a location that inspired several of Brett’s best paintings. After seeing it exhibited in Birmingham, one critic called it ‘one of Mr Brett’s very finest works ... in which rock, and sand, and sea are painted, as Mr Brett alone can render them’ (Birmingham Daily Post, 28 August 1876, p 5). It was soon bought by the politician Joseph Chamberlain, who left it to his son Austen Chamberlain. By now, Brett was at the outset of what he later described as his ‘Heyday’, having been made Associate of the Royal Academy, where his pictures were regularly accepted for exhibition and sold for £1,200 apiece. Brett's love of geology encouraged him to explore the wilder shores of Britain, especially at low tide. An experienced sailor, Brett was better able to reach pristine, unknown parts of the British coast, where he found - as he said pithily - that ‘sentiment in landscape is chiefly dependent on meteorology’. Man, if he appeared at all, was incidental at sea or on land, for Brett was the Hammond Innes of painters - everything was subordinate to the power of nature.

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Created 13 June 2022