The dome of London's St Paul's Cathedral provides an ageless and serene backdrop for this scene of bustling activity pictured in The Demolition of the Post Office. Light and shade, work and rest, permanence and transience; these are the opposites which Brangwyn unites in this masterly etching.
For a powerful London to grow even bigger in the twentieth century, some old buildings had to be destroyed. The old post office was one such building. Demolishers toil among derrick cranes, pulleys, machinery, ladders and all the smoking, steaming paraphernalia of destruction. Through all the dust of the labour, Brangwyn filters a light which is both realistic and optimistic. Past, present and future are all here. In the street, people are going about their daily tasks, buying and selling in the market. The horse-drawn delivery van is as much part of the bustling world of commerce and industry as the men working on the demolition site. From the destruction, something new and more beautiful is to emerge-that is the hope for the future. And above the whole scene, St Paul's reminds the viewer of the long history of London.
Study of a Nude Figure was a gift to Carrick Hill from Lady (Jean) Hayward, Sir Edward Hayward's second wife. Sir Edward bought the painting for his new wife in 1972, while they were visiting London. The richness and depth of colour first attracted them when they saw it at the Fine Art Society. That opulence, together with the ornate carved fruit-wood frame, struck them as an ideal addition to act as a focus for the panelled entrance hall at Carrick Hill. So this painting, full of warmth and feeling and very much redolent of nature's bounty, has found a fitting home in a warm mansion surrounded by gardens, half a world away from London's cold greyness.
Study of a Nude Figure reflects the essence of the artist himself, combining great simplicity and directness with depth of passion and vigorous technique. The recurrent motif in Brangwyn's long career is a strong depiction of life. This is never more apparent than in Study of a Nude Figure. The painting's rich yet muted colours give an initial impression of sombreness. Then, the light glinting on the back of the naked woman catches the eye, and the viewer is led into the painting, to be captured by the feast that is there.
The bulbous earthenware pot on which the fleshy nude sits spills the fruits of the earth from its copious mouth and is draped with colourful and exotic materials. Rainbow colours stain the whole painting, luscious tints picking out turbans, fruits and flesh in a celebration of plenty.
All is delightful in Brangwyn's bounteous world. The rounded shapes of pumpkins, grapes and buttocks jostle for primacy. Wine and water are in abundance, together with the most sensual of foods. Men and women are present, obviously enjoying each other and their repast, so this is not a nunnery, nor even a harem. No, Brangwyn is appealing to the hedonistic side of human nature. Study of a Nude Figure is about enjoyment, the enjoyment of ripeness of flesh, of fruit and bodies before everything withers.
The painting is complemented by a heavy fruit-wood frame of stylised acanthus leaves, almost certainly designed by the artist himself. Brangwyn was very aware of the fact that the frame can influence the way in which a painting is revealed, and the effect of this frame is to reinforce the primitive, organic nature of the painting.
Frank Brangwyn was born in Bruges to Welsh parents and the great outpouring of life, colour and emotion that is evident in his works may be attributable to his Celtic ancestry. He received his only artistic guidance from his father, an architect who also ran a workshop reproducing medieval embroideries. After the family moved to London in 1875, the young Brangwyn seemed to have had complete freedom to roam the streets and dockland areas.
This helped him to develop a life-long love of the sea, ships and travel, most obvious in his early works. As he grew up, he voyaged further afield to Asia, Africa and many of the foreign ports that formed part of the far-flung British Empire. He developed a love of the exotic, and his works became more colourful and flamboyant. It was as if this great outpouring of warmth and vibrancy in his painting was a reaction against the sombre greyness of the English climate.
Although Brangwyn first had his work accepted by the Royal Academy in 1885, it took the British buying public some time to warm to his colourful exuberance. He had no such problems in other countries, and American buyers in particular sought his work eagerly. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Brangwyn produced a vast quantity of material, working on many commissions for large-scale public murals, and at the same time churning out vast numbers of paintings, drawings and prints. In 1919 he was admitted to the Royal Academy, and a knighthood in 1941 recognised his international reputation. In 1952 he became the first living artist to be honoured with a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy.
During his lifetime, Brangwyn was considered to be one of the greatest living artists. In the early 1900s, Sir Alfred East judged him to be' . . . the Rembrandt of tomorrow.'
Brangwyn's reputation has suffered a decline since the time he received such extravagant praise from his contemporaries and supporters. His 'lavishly prodigal style', so unusual in an English artist, has not worn well in the face of modernism. However, Study of a Nude Figure is imbued with what South Australian art critic Robert Smith calls 'a certain nobility and grandeur'. It is an appropriately rhetorical statement to complement Carrick Hill's rich, fairy tale quality.