On the Cornish Coast

On the Cornish Coast, 1880
John Brett (1831–1902)
Oil on Canvas
BORGM 00357

Pre-Raphaelite 

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This painting by John Brett is of Poercurnow, and was painted on 13th September 1880. It is identical in size to ‘Land’s End, Cornwall’, which was painted two weeks later, and is also on display on the Balcony. ‘

Brett depicts geological elements and atmospheric conditions with minutely observed detail. This lends his subjects a grandeur intended to express the immensity and power of nature. Brett’s small picture offers a monumentally scaled view of the rocks above the extensive coastal cliffs near Porthcurnow. In the background is the ‘Logan Rock’, popular among artists for its dramatic rock formations. The calm, sun dappled sea provides a backdrop for the finely detailed study of the moss and lichen covered granite boulders that dominate the picture. The cropped composition creates a startling effect.

Brett made his first visit to Cornwall on his honeymoon in 1870. He continued to make regular painting expeditions to Cornwall over 30 years. Brett left over 200 known views of the Cornish coastline in which he recorded with Ruskin-like precision and Pre-Raphaelite intensity of colour its varied splendour of the cliffs.

It was these dramatic rock formations, as well as sea views which attracted Brett to Cornwall. The Magazine of Art ran a series titled ‘Artists Haunts’ in 1878 which features two long articles on Cornish cliffs. It wrote of this scene: ‘Then comes Porthcurnow, with its magnificent rocks and fine view of the famous Logan Rock… Here the unusually bright colour of the rhomboidal blocks of granite which build up the headland … covered in part with byssos, afford fine studies’. Cornwall became a prime location for artists to paint coastal scenes due to its ease of access by train.

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