- Extended catalogue entry
by John Brett
Pencil on thick wove off-white paper, 1858
8 1/8 in. x 8 3/4 in. (206 mm x 226 mm) uneven
Inscriptionback to top
Inscr. top right-hand corner: ‘Arthur Hughes’;
and dated below shoulder: ‘Decr.9.58’.
This portraitback to top
The two artists were close contemporaries and moved in the same Pre-Raphaelite circles. Neither was a core member though Hughes was always nearer the hub than Brett. Hughes does not appear in the pages of the PRB journal but his modesty and sweetness of character, reflected in Brett’s drawing, were often referred to in contemporary letters and accounts. Both artists exhibited at the PRB exhibition in 1857, and were members of the Hogarth Club. In the late 1850s they worked on similar ruralist subjects: Brett on The Hedger (1859) and Hughes on The Woodman’s Child (c.1860). Hughes seems to have been influenced by Brett’s landscapes. Although Payne 2010 suggests the two may have been in ‘close contact’ in the summer of 1859, and they certainly were in 1889, the relationship is otherwise practically undocumented. .
John Brett built his reputation on landscape and marine painting but for a period during the 1850s and 1860s he produced some remarkable figure drawings. These are typically small-scale and densely drawn; a group of them was published in the 1990s and their significance within Brett’s oeuvre recognized.
John Ruskin, Brett’s mentor, was a stern admirer and he could blow hot and cold: he urged Brett to draw continuously – ‘there is no help for anybody but in the ink bottle’; and in the same letter advised him to keep to pure landscape – ‘You know you lost no end of time by that accursed fit of hankering after being a figure painter.’ Ruskin’s father John James, however, was more appreciative of the figure drawings: ‘I should also be quite obliged to you to spare me £20 worth of sketches, however slight’, he wrote to the artist in July 1863, ‘…for in Human Countenance your great Strength lies, forgive me ye wood hyacinths and all the other Beauties of your marvellous Foreground.’
Footnotesback to top
1) Payne 2010, pp.58-9. Brett and Hughes are definitely known to have been sketching together in Padstow, Cornwall, summer 1889; Payne 2010, p.167.
2) Hickox 1996a; Hickox 1996b. Hickox, like Peter Watson (former owner of NPG 6483), is a descendant of John Brett.
3) Letter from J. Ruskin to J. Brett, 2 May 1863; quoted Hickox 1996b, p.525.
4) Letter from J.J. Ruskin to J. Brett; quoted Hickox 1996a, p.14.
Physical descriptionback to top
Head-and-shoulders, head three-quarters to left, eyes downcast.
Provenanceback to top
The artist; his eldest daughter Daisy Watson; by descent to Peter Watson from whom purchased, 1999.
Exhibitionsback to top
Objects of Affection: Pre-Raphaelite Portraits by John Brett, Birmingham, 2010 (13)
The Poetry of Drawing, Birmingham MAG and AG of New S Wales, Sydney, 2011 (84)
Reproductionsback to top
Payne 2010 p.58, fig.43
Payne & Sumner 2010, no.13
Cruise 2011, p.106, fig.132
View all known portraits for Arthur Hughes
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