Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Brangwyn's Reference

For one of his murals, Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) went to the trouble of posing models and setting up a grid to transfer the drawing. 

Frank Brangwyn, photo reference and detail from his mural
for the entrance of Olham Press in London
But he still changed what was in the reference to make it please him as a decorative design. Note the way the fingers of the right hand arch outward, and the way he completely invented the drapery.

Do you like the changes he made? Did he overdo it, or did he achieve a pleasing geometry?

Frank Brangwyn, lunette mural, 1936
for the entrance of Olham Press (now demolished) 
For context, here's the entire lunette mural, so that you can see how the pose fits into the decorative effect (Courtesy Victorian Web and LISS Fine Arts).


Jim Douglas said...

I'm a fan of Brangwyn's work, but I think he went too far in this case. He forced so many harsh curving lines into the figure and manipulated the proportions to such an extent that the end result looks overly cartoony.

Apparently, the Tate thought Brangwyn overdid it, too:
"In 1935 Brangwyn was commissioned by Lord Southwood to create a lunette decoration for the main entrance hall of Odham Press. The building was demolished in 1973, but the lunette was saved and sold in auction. It was offered to the Tate in 1977 and the response was: 'Though it is certainly a very typical work, I am afraid that there is not much chance of our being interested in buying it.' The painting was again offered in 1987 and the Tate internal memo read: 'In theory we need this ... but I find the picture rather ridiculous.'"

James Gurney said...

Hey, Jim, wow good job digging up some primary source info about this piece. It's especially interesting to get a window into the internal deliberations of the Tate.

Paul Sullivan said...

James— another great post. I think Brangwyn should have followed his reference much closer. The forms of the woman's back—shaped by the lighting—in the photo reference are much better and offer a simpler point of departure for design.

I'm not a real big fan of Brangwyn's work. I can't figure out why Cornwell thought he needed to learn from him. Cornwell drifted back to something of his own style in his mural work after the LA Public Library project.

Rich said...

Well, he took his liberties with the original photograph.
Perhaps not a plain successful attempt, but still an appealing rendition, a nice "cover", in today's musical speak,
though IMHO.

CerverGirl said...

Looks like a masculine model for the visible hands in the peace. They look awkward, but so does the placement of strong blue colors that take away from the apparent focal point of the woman.

Eugene Arenhaus said...

For what it's worth, I think he's pretty much ignored most of the reference - everything besides, more or less, the rough pose and the angle. He contrived nearly everything else, like the details of the muscles, sense of weight, muscle tone etc. The reference actually looks superior to the painting, in this case.

It should have been done exactly the other way: design the pose and then use reference to give it more life and truth.

Sesco said...

I believe the feeling of 'something is wrong' has to do with a misjudgment of values, creating a lack of depth.

K. Moody said...

All technical aspects of this piece aside, am I the only one here who feels uncomfortable with this scene? Why is there a nude female strolling through a group of dressed people (most of which are men)? What was the artist's message or point? Or is this some kind of male fantasy? Being female myself, it makes me feel "naked" as well-! Does an artist have any social responsibility to his/her audience?
Just the way I personally feel...

James Gurney said...

I've added an image of the complete lunette mural (thanks Jim for identifying it), so that you can see how the pose fits into the whole effect.

K Moody, your questions raises all sorts of interesting avenues of discussion, and I can recommend the Victorian Web's large series of pages on "Women as Subjects in Victorian Painting":
Copy this link to your browser:

which delves into topics of female power, goddesses, femme fatales, women (especially nude women) as victims, women as ideals, and women as objects of desire. My guess is that the intention in this mural is to suggest an "exotic" woman from some far-flung corner of the British Empire, carrying a basket of fruit, and topless according to a British person's mental image of indigenous culture.