Curated by The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
Beautiful and incisive portraits by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Brett are for the first time to be the focus of a major exhibition.
Objects of Affection: Pre-Raphaelite Portraits by John Brett features many paintings, drawings and early photographs that have never before been seen in public.
Brett (1831-1902) is principally known as a painter of luminescent landscapes featuring the coast of the British Isles. At the end of the 19th century, as many as 30 such works hung in houses around the affluent, middle-class Birmingham suburb of Edgbaston, where the University of Birmingham-based gallery is situated today. His patrons included the politician Joseph Chamberlain and wealthy professionals and businessmen.
However, what is less well-known is that Brett was also an accomplished portraitist, and initially planned to concentrate as a figure painter after training at the Royal Academy Schools. Although he received few commissions for formal portraits, he did like many of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, create a significant quantity of intimate studies depicting friends and lovers, his family, and friends in the literary and artistic world. An enthusiastic pioneer photographer, Brett also delighted in capturing his sitters in this medium. His best portraits, whether drawing, oil painting or photograph, have a meticulous delicacy comparable to that of his landscapes, while also revealing deep psychological insight and affection for many of his subjects.
The exhibition features many works from private collections, alongside loans from major UK museums, including the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. As well as the portraiture, it will also include a selection of Brett¹s trademark landscapes, some of which were commissioned for wealthy Birmingham patrons, and archive material including his original letters, which reveal much about his personality.
Objects of Affection is co-curated by Professor Ann Sumner, Director of the Barber Institute, who also curated the exhibition John Brett - A Pre-Raphaelite on the Shores of Wales at National Museum Wales in 2001, and Dr Christiana Payne, Reader in History of Art at Oxford Brookes University, whose research specialisms include 19th-century landscape and genre painting, and has also curated widely in the field in Britain and the US.
Said Professor Sumner: "This exciting exhibition will showcase a whole new area of research into a fascinating and under-appreciated Pre-Raphaelite artist. Brett¹s popularity in Victorian Birmingham alone justifies this exhibition.
Brett¹s portraits are wonderfully intimate and personal works, and we feel sure that the show will have enormous popular appeal.
Dr Payne added: 'The critic, John Ruskin, disapproved of Brett's desire to paint the human figure, but Ruskin's father disagreed, writing to Brett: "in Human Countenance your Great Strength lies". Visitors to this exhibition will be able to judge who they think was more perceptive.'