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?'”
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.
|Horace Isbister||Frank Brangwyn|
|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|
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.