John Brett [1830-1902] : Hillside town (possibly Calstock, Cornwall), ca.1870s.


John Brett [1830-1902]
English Pre-Raphaelite artist
Hillside town (possibly Calstock, Cornwall), ca.1870s
Pencil on paper
5-1/2 x 7-1/2 inches
provenance : The Maas Gallery

2023 Hillside town (possibly Calstock, Cornwall)
after ca.1957 Hillside town

Good original condition matted with gold tipped bevel.

John Brett (1831-1902) was an English artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement but was best known for his plein-air pencil sketches of Switzerland and England.  This drawing likely portrays Calstock, Cornwall in England.  Calstock has a distinctive tall bridge that appears in the drawing.

2023 ( David Smernoff, New Haven, CT & New York, NY ) ;
after 1957 ( The Maas Gallery Ltd, London, England ) ;
1957 Private collection of descendants of Daisy (Brett) Watson (1873-1957) ;
1902 Private collection of Daisy (Brett) Watson (1873-1957) and George Watson (1869-1952), Brett’s eldest daughter
ca.1870s John Brett [1830-1902], the artist .

– [none known] ;

– [none known] ;

John Brett (1831-1902) was an English artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Brett enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools in 1854 at the age of 22. An avid reader of John Ruskin, he was attracted to the vivid realism and attention to detail embodied by the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1856, while traveling in Switzerland, Brett met fellow landscape painter John William Inchbold, who proved a significant influence on his work.

That same year, Brett completed his first major painting, The Glacier of Rosenlaui (1856, Tate Britain), which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857. This was followed in 1858 by The Stonebreaker (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), and in 1859 by what is considered his Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, The Val d’Aosta, which received praise from Ruskin.

From 1865 onward, Brett focused primarily on coastal and maritime scenes of England, Wales, and the Channel Islands. He frequently toured the rugged cliffs and shores of Devon, Cornwall, and Wales, making small plein air oil sketches. He also sailed along the British coast for months at a time in the 1880s, producing sketches onboard. Brett had a scientific mind and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1871.

In 1881, Brett was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, though he never attained full Academician status. By the end of his career, Brett’s work had fallen out of critical favor, though he continued exhibiting. He struggled financially in his later years and painted little after 1897. Brett died in 1902 at the age of 70, praised by the Royal Academy President as “one of the most original of our landscape artists.” A small exhibition of his Cornish paintings was held at the new Whitechapel Gallery shortly after his death.

Brett was a prodigious oil sketcher, often completing small plein air studies in just a few hours. These sketches served as references for larger studio paintings. He discussed his painting process in an 1886 exhibition catalog of his Scottish coastal sketches. Though largely forgotten today, Brett’s innovative plein air oil sketches and luminous coastal scenes were an important contribution to 19th century British landscape painting.