The Fine Art Society is pleased to present Gerald Brockhurst: A Private Collection, an exhibition of 50 etchings and lithographs by acclaimed British American artist Gerald Brockhurst (1890-1978). Comprising works created between 1920 and 1945, this private collection covers the entire practice of the artist as printmaker.
Born in Birmingham in 1890, Brockhurst showed promising signs of his artistic talent while very young: the then headmaster of the Birmingham School of Art even announced he had discovered ”a young Botticelli”. It was there that he encountered the work of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, which alongside his interest in the Italian Renaissance mas- ters would provide an ample source of inspiration for the formation of his style. Brockhurst was one of the most successful and highly sought after portrait painters in London during his lifetime, but he was also a highly skilled draughtsman and etcher. At a time when the market for contemporary etching was growing, he quickly mastered the technique and published his first prints in 1920 (Mélisande, The Mirror, Henry Rushbury, and Yolande, among others from this early period, are included in this exhibition). Translating his work from oil to ink, he produced exceptionally detailed portraits and figure studies, in contrast to the trend for landscapes and cityscapes in etchings at the time.
Surprisingly, his traditional approach to portraiture blossomed in an era when there was growing interest in the abstract avant-garde movement across Europe and the US markets. And yet, his uncompromisingly truthful and enticing portraits were very much a product of their time: from the careful depiction of women’s fashion, make up, and hair- styles – his subjects include the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich and Merle Oberon, three of the most alluring women of the time - to the powerful posture and expensive suits typical of his male American sitters such as J. Paul Getty and Jacob Burns. Glamour portraits and fashion photography were central to the cultural trends perpetuated by movies and fashion magazines such as Vogue in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s and certainly influenced Brockhurst’s portraiture.
If Brockhurst had a long list of cosmopolitan sitters for his paintings, the primary models for his etchings were his first and second wives. In his numerous depictions of them, we see the artist’s fascination with feminine beauty.
He married his first wife, Anaïs Mélisande Folin, in 1913, and for over a decade she patiently posed for her husband in dozens of sittings, costumes, and poses. Out of 20 works in the exhibition, only one is titled with her name. In her meticulously reproduced attire and accessories, Anaïs embodies numerous female archetypes and literary figures (Corinne, Aglaia, Elizabeth, Almina, Nadia. Young Womanhood (1931) [n.39], the final picture for which Anaïs posed, illustrates this theme perfectly with its clear reference to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The incredibly rich plate masterfully expresses the texture of Anaïs’s beaded cap, silk dress and serious expression.
Brockhurst’s second wife was Kathleen Nancy Woodward, a young model at The Royal Academy whom he renamed Dorette. When his first marriage ended in scandal in 1939, they both ed to the US. Dorette became a fixture of his paintings and prints, of which Adolescence (1932) [n.42] is widely considered his masterpiece. The largest etching in the exhibition, it presents young Dorette looking at her own nude reflection in the mirror. This charged depiction of teenage anxieties is as much a psychological portrait as a physical one. It is also a work of extreme technical mastery, where every object, surface, light and shade is beautifully reproduced.