Oil on canvas; signed on stretcher, labelled
7 x 14 inches
By descent through the artist's family
Brett made his name at the Royal Academy's 1858 exhibition with The Stonebreaker, (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), painted in painstaking Pre-Raphaelite detail with 'truth to nature'. Ruskin wrote of it that 'in some points of precision it goes beyond anything that the pre-Raphaelites have done yet', and concluded with the challenge, 'If he can paint so lovely a distance from the Surrey Downs ... what would he not make of the chestnut groves of the Val d'Osta!' Brett spent the following summer touring the continent with Ruskin - but his Val d'Osta of 1859 (private collection) confronted Ruskin with the most literal result of the approach to landscape advocated by him, and came as a disappointment to the critic who thought it a 'Mirror's work, not Man's'. As Ruskin's influence on Brett - and indeed their friendship - waned, the artist gradually found his metier in coastal and marine painting, having discovered (as he said pithily) that 'sentiment in landscape is chiefly dependent on meteorology.'
This little sketch, done in a single sitting on one of Brett's double square 7" x 14" canvases, is perhaps a preparatory work for The Grey of the Morning. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1882, the larger picture depicts Bothwick Rocks in Newquay, with Trevose Head in the distance. It's possible that our picture is one of the forty 7" x 14" 'sketches from nature' Brett sent to the Fine Art Society's 'Sea Exhibition' in 1881-82. Brett’s oil sketches were painted in single sittings of two or three hours, each an unadulterated observation painted straight from nature.