Warwick Brookes 2
According to a promise he had made, Haydon forwarded, from Liverpool, a sketch of his palette and its arrangement, addressed to “The United Society of Manchester Artists.” The term “united” was certainly appropriate, but the law which bound them together was unwritten. It was, simply, love of art. If there were rules they were never appealed to, for the need never arose. There was neither headmaster, keeper, or visitor. Each was on a footing of equality with the other, the only superiority being that which was apparent in the quality of the work. Francis Chester (with the thunder brows, flashing eyes, and suave French manners) had a passion for colour, and painted in the manner of Etty, though of course, without his brilliant sword-play of execution. Crozier, in all he did, was safe and solid. Brookes’ essays in oil were noteworthy for refinement of drawing and elegance of touch, but although he had a fine appreciation of colour in the works of other men, he did not manifest the faculty in his own. Benson (in his youth a disciple of St. Crispin) was a robust polemic, as much at home in the pulpit, as in the painting room; he referred everything, manners, morals, art and architecture, to the arbitrament of holy writ.
But our present business is not with these. If Mr. Brookes did not excel in colour, he had singular mastery over form. Holding a sketch book in his hand (standing) he would produce studies so finely drawn and exquisitely finished as to be worthy of Mulready. Few men are always at their best. Much of the art of Blake (great as it often was) was poor in drawing and abortive in idea. Stothard was not always up to the high level of his Canterbury pilgrimage of Pilgrim’s Progress. But Brookes (within his limitations) was always the same; never careless or weak, but always expressing the truths of nature with refinement and grace. It was said of him by William Bradley (than whom there was no finer judge) that he was the greatest master of the pencil whom he had ever known, with (perhaps) the exception of the late R.J. Lane, A.R.A, who lithographed the works of Sir Thomas Lawrence, Jackson R.A and others.
But Warwick Brookes had the power of origination, of which we have no evidence in the work of Lane. The scale on which he wrought made no difference; a figure the size of life would be drawn with the same facility as one the size of a thumbnail. Some of his sketches of subjects, and ideas for compositions, are on the scale of one inch by three quarters and are drawn with such accuracy and finish as proved the possession of unusual power of vision as well as of hand. Happily for the student of the attic, the feet of discord never mounted their many-flighted stairs. Nay, these “philosophous sous les toites” supplemented their assemblies by meetings, held monthly at each other’s houses for the enjoyment of books, prints, and sketches. Somehow they came to be known by the name “the Roman Bricks.” These evenings were thoroughly delightful. How keen was the relish for rare impressions of Durer, and the Little Masters; of the etchings of Van Dyck, the burin of Paul Pontius; Rubens and Rembrandt, Turner and Tintoret, Sir Joshua and Gainsborough, furnished food for an appetite which grew with what it fed on. To these enthusiasts a portfolio of prints was a grove sacred to the Muses, and the hours they spent over it were as Helicon with its abounding streams. The architect made up for the fewness of his words by their condensed energy and pith. The future president of the Manchester Academy would learnedly expound some great composition, or scheme of light and shadow, and prove that what appeared to be a spontaneous emanation of genius, was, really, a cunningly devised and profoundly studied artifice which succeeded in concealing art. At these times the work-a-day world was excluded, and the finer world of art unfolded. Time was forgotten in the contemplation of the process by which the facts of nature were transformed and brought into harmony with the true, the universal, the ideal. They found, as all must find, that the fascinations of genius are irresistible, inexhaustible, unaccountable. Who can explain the enchantment in the work of Michael Angelo or Durer? It is different in different minds, and yet analogous, and exists, not only in the grandly imaginative style of the former, but in (what may be called) the imitative manner of the latter. For the art that raises us out of our common experience into the vision of a nobler life, as well as that which deals with the ordinary and common place the broad and universal as well as the minute and particular receives from the hand of genius some occult quality which removes it into the domain of mystery, some influence which makes it strange and remote. The taste engendered by these evenings was cosmopolitan in its range; it was fed to the full by the old masters, but it relished the new. It equally assimilated Raphael and Rossetti. It rejoiced in the art which was faithful to the spirit which gives life, and was tolerant of that which concerns itself mainly with the letter, which unduly insisted on, leads to decadence and death.
But the breadth and serious purpose of these evenings was relieved by rich undertones of humour and of many a sparkling sally. Mr. Brookes had a sturdy independence of judgement against which the greatest names were not proof, and many a stout argument was maintained, but ever with good humour and with reverence for great names. We have dwelt for a few moments on these studies and relaxations, because of the pleasure with which Mr. Brookes took in them and the influence they exerted over him.
With his friends it was ever a subject of regret that the self-reliance which he displayed in his opinion did not go further, and impel him to leave the stool of the pattern designer for the studio of the artist. He was the only one who doubted his success. What he might have become if he had devoted the time given to chintzes and furnitures to the practice of art, cannot of course be known. Yes we may be sure that he would have carried the purest and most healthful pleasure into a thousand homes, and realized for us many a golden myth, for there had been given to him a large measure the grace to see grace, and insight into the beauty of the antique time. Such essays as he did make in imaginative art justify us in saying so much. His favourite poem was that “darke conceit” the Faerie Queene and his favourite personages, Una, Britomart, and the Knight of the Red Cross; his affinities being with the chivalrous, the lovely, and the pure. Still, one cannot wonder, when the bitter experiences of his childhood and youth are remembered, that he shrank from encountering the uncertainties or the artist’s life. Prudence conquered inclination, and art suffered a grievous loss.
Among the exercises which he indulged in were etching on copper and engraving on wood, arts in which he succeeded without an effort. As we write, there lies on the table, an impression from a block, designed, drawn, and cut by him, representing an airy and graceful group of Venus and Cupid; and an impression from a copper plate (also designed, drawn, and printed by him) of an Amazonian figure striding away with a couple of loves, whom he grasps by the wings and is bent on casting out. This wood-cut (the first he ever made) shows no trace of the “prentice ham.”
Another art in which he might have excelled was music. As a boy he sang in the choir at Gravel Lane Church and once ( at Ashton-on-Mersey Church) he sang the solos in a musical service and he would sometimes amuse his friends by whistling a long and intricate piece in a singularly sweet and faultless style. The air by Mozart which was dear to Mr. Richard Swiveller, “Away with melancholy,” was also a favourite of his, and he was delighted if he could get his old and faithful friend James Hull to sing it whilst he whistled an accompaniment.
The fate which usually overtakes even the most resolute and confirmed bachelor, overtook Mr. Brookes in the year 1852. Some time previously, when sketching in the sylvan glades of Dunham with the present deponent, he encountered the worthy lady whom fate had decreed to become his wife and who happily survives him.
The year 1857 was a memorable one in Manchester because of the Art Treasures Exhibition at Old Trafford, and subordinately so in Salford, because of the exhibition of the works of local artists at Peel Park. To this exhibition Mr. Brookes and his associates liberally contributed. He had more than a dozen drawings, besides a picture in oil of three cats. His work was much admired by Prince Albert, whose visit is recorded in The Times of May 7th. 1857. Out of this Peel Park exhibition arose the Manchester Academy of Art of which Mr. Brookes became a member; but a few years ago when the state of the artist was such as to demand the deepest sympathy and the highest consideration, the Hanging Committee treated his contributions so scornfully that he wrote an indignant protest and withdrew.
The year 1858 was a sad one. He lost his mother; but he had the consolation of knowing that they had been tenderly united for half a century. Their stream of time had been placid and they had glided down it hand-in-hand. The gloomy days of their Greengate life lay softened in the light of memory, and in the words of her favourite song,
The tears of pleasure did her cheeks adorn,
And blessings fell in torrents from her tongue.
On her account, Wensleydale had ever the deepest interest for him, and he had made a reverent pilgrimage to the places that were connected with her youth. Bolton and Middleham Castles, the Roman Camp, and the stronghold of the Kingmaker whose name he bore; Semmer-Water, Hardraw, Ayagarth; Richmond and Easby in Swaledale; these and their ruined castles and abbeys he had visited and sketched. “Time honoured Lancaster,” too was a favourite resort, for his mother’s connections lived there.
The faculty of making and retaining friends is a happy one, and Mr. Brookes possessed it in a high degree. It was a great stroke of good fortune when, in 1865, he secured the friendship of the far seeing champion of the blind, Dr. Crompton; a man who unites the fine courtesy of a gentleman with a tenacity of purpose which, disdaining to acknowledge defeat, fights on to victory. How greatly this friendship contributed to soften the calamity of illness which befell him in the following year, can hardly be estimated. For two years he was unable to leave his room, and during the whole of that time the doctor visited him almost daily, and not only supplied his needs, but administered his affairs with fortunate results. Further, he introduced him to the notice of Sir Walter C James, Bart., who became one of the artists kindest and most influential friends, introducing him to a wide circle of the nobility. The Rossendale Printing Company also behaved with liberality. Under the advice of Lord Hardinge, and Mr. James Nasmyth, the engineer, Mr. Brookes published a series of photographs of his drawings. Among others Sir Walter showed them to Sir Francis Grant P.R.A who said they had nothing like them in their body. He submitted them to the Council of the Royal Academy, who ordered copies for the library.
In the artist’s possession were two goodly volumes filled with letters from noble and distinguished people. We find the Duke and Duchess of Argyle sending an invitation to London or Inverary Castle and stating how delighted the Princess Louise was with his drawings. One, purchased by her, was a study of a kitten, which now a sober grimalkin of sixteen, blinks by the hearth, and patiently but vainly, awaits the coming of her master. Throughout these most interesting volumes there are abundant evidences of kindly feeling, warm friendship, delicate appreciation and taste; but in none more than in the letters from the Right Hon. W.E. Gladstone, his wife and daughters. It is refreshing to find that the busiest man in Europe has time for the enjoyment of art, and time to interest himself benevolently with the affairs of an invalid artist. This rich collection includes letters from J.E Millais, G.F. Watts, W.P. Frith, T. Woolner, Birket Foster, Sam Cousins, Fred Taylor, Tom Taylor, Sir W. Boxall, Lord Granville, and others. A mournful interest is attached to a letter from the late Dante G. Rossetti. Speaking of the photographs, he says they are “remarkable, and indeed admirable.” Their production by an untrained (he probably meant unprofessional) hand, seems almost incredible. I cannot doubt that when seen they will be widely appreciated in London by all whose judgement is of any value. The babies seem to me to be triumphs, every one of them; not that they are better than the other figures, but because every artist knows to his cost how difficult it is to obtain such success in reproducing babyhood.
<Click> here for more on Thomas Stothard.
<Click> here for more on Thomas Stothard.
Continued in the next post..........