Isbister according to St. John Clarke

Jenkins reflected after St. John Clarke’s death: “If so tortuous a comparison of mediocre talent could ever be resolved, St John Clarke was probably to be judged a ‘better’ writer than Isbister was a painter.” [CCR 184/190 ]

Mark Members recalled St. John Clarke’s jealousy of all the acclaim Isbister received: “‘Isbister was beloved of the gods, Mark,’ he had cried, looking up with a haggard face from The Times of New Year’s Day with its list of awards, ‘R.A. before he was forty-five — Gold Medalist of the Paris Salon — Diploma of Honour at the International Exhibition at Amsterdam — Commander of the Papal Order of Pius IX — refused a knighthood. Think of it, Mark, a man the King would have delighted to honour. What recognition have I compared to these?'”

The Cider Press Frank Brangwyn, 1902 oil on canvas The Japan Times | © DAVID BRANGWYN, LISS FINE ART PHOTO

The Cider Press
Frank Brangwyn, 1902
oil on canvas
from The Japan Times
© DAVID BRANGWYN, LISS FINE ART PHOTO

We have already speculated about models for Isbister, a portraitist, the ‘British Frans Hals,’ a genre painter.  Now we offer Frank Brangwyn as a possibility.  Maybe Isbister’s genre paintings would look something like Brangwyn’s The Cider Press.  Brangwyn was acclaimed early in his career; The Buccaneers was a sensation at the Paris Salon of 1893. In the table below,  we compare Isbister to Frank Brangwyn to show how Isbister’s biography overlaps with real events. The parallels are striking when we outline their careers side by side.

The Buccaneers Frank Brangwyn, 1893 Internet Archive version of a copy in the Ontario College of Art. Web. 28 December 2012   from Victorian Web

The Buccaneers
Frank Brangwyn, 1893
Internet Archive version of a copy in the Ontario College of Art. Web. 28 December 2012 from Victorian Web

Horace Isbister Frank Brangwyn
Born  1867
Paris Salon Gold Medalist Gold Medal, 1891, for Funeral at Sea
Amsterdam International Exhbition Diploma of Honour Gold medal, 1906, for Santa Maria della Salute
Elected RA Before age 45 1919 (age 52)
Papal Order of Pius IX Commander Not known but was Catholic
Knighthood Declined the honour Knighted, 1941, but skipped dubbing ceremony
Died  1932  1956
Santa Maria della Salute, Venice Frank Brangwyn, 1906, repainted 1933 oil on canvas, 59 x 64 in Ferens Art Gallery Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England photo BBC Your Paintings

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
Frank Brangwyn, 1906, repainted 1933
oil on canvas, 59 x 64 in
Ferens Art Gallery
Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England
photo BBC Your Paintings

 

Of course, Isbister is drawn from a mixture of his contemporaries, and  the comparison to Brangwyn is imperfect. For example, Brangwyn was more a muralist than a portraitist; however, we do know that Powell derided the styles of both artists, referring to “Royal Academy pictures in the sententiously forcible manner of Brangwyn–once much imitated …” [TKBR 147].  Like Isbister,  after World War I Brangwyn’s reputation waned, but today he has new enthusiasts.

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