The Open Sea
Watercolour and pencil heightened with bodycolour, with scratching out; signed and dated 1865.
9 x 12.75 inches
In August 1865, enjoying at last a degree of prosperity, Brett bought a yacht, Baby, and spent the winter on the Isle of White painting in watercolour out-of-doors. Brett’s interest in the sea had grown as the influence of Ruskin shrank (they had an irrevocable quarrel in 1864), and he became fascinated by painting rough seas, which Ruskin thought ‘unpaintable’. In 1866, Brett wrote in his notebook: ‘Ascertain which side of a wave is lighter when sun is behind spectator? Is there any glisten? Which is lighter, the lights on waves or the scud near horizon? Is not the average of the clouds of the same darkness of the lights of the sea? ...Westerly gale ...the sea crimped all over. The crimps lie thicker together towards the crests of the waves and are mostly set at a small angle with them - sometimes parallel. When two crimps are driven athwart one another they break andsubside into a film of yeasty foam which more than anything else displays the modelling of a wave’.
Brett’s powers of observation were almost forensic. He had a sailor’s appreciation of wind and water, a scientist’s understanding of meteorology, and an artist’s ability to depict them. This picture provided the prototype for two large seascapes Brett painted in succeeding years: the so- called ‘Longitude’ picture, or Rainbow at Sea (1867), and Christmas Morning (1868). Both were commissioned by Brett’s great patron Alfred Morrison, who also owned this picture. In a letter to Morrison dated 17 August 1866, the artist wrote, ‘I am so pleased to hear that you have taken to yourself the little sea drawing. Although the word popularity is “not in my book” I must confess that to know that my work is sincerely liked is an intense pleasure to me’.
Thanks to Christiana Payne and Charles Brett.