The Land’s End, Cornwall

The Land's End, Cornwall or The Black East Wind,1880
John Brett 1831–1902
Oil on canvas
BORGM 00356
Image © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

Balcony  Pre-Raphaelite 

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The Land’s End, Cornwall (or The Black East Wind)

The Land’s End Cornwall was painted on a yachting tour around the south west coast. The inscription on the painting identifies the location as ‘The Black Coast’. This small picture exemplifies Brett’s close attention to detail. The minutely observed rocks that dominate the foreground adhere to Ruskin’s principle of truth to nature. Brett was probably the most persistent painter in the Pre-Raphaelite style.

Brett had lessons from the landscape painter James Harding who had also taught John Ruskin. Brett studied at the Royal Academy Schools from 1853. His painting The Stone Breaker exhibited at the RA (1858) was praised by the powerful critic John Ruskin. Brett’s painting style was influenced by his contact with Ruskin, particularly his geological subjects. Ruskin advocated that water, air and earth were manifestations of God’s creative work. Such elements were key subjects for Brett. Brett decided that Ruskin was ‘one of the great lights of the age’. Brett’s attempt to reconcile his spiritual beliefs with the findings of science appears to have led to his loss of faith.

Brett is deemed to be the ‘John’ in Christina Rossetti’s 1860 poem ‘No thank You, John’. William Rosetti identified his sister’s suitor as ‘the marine painter John Brett, who (at a date antecedent, say 1852) had appeared to be somewhat smitten by Christina’. This was despite the fact that Christina, in a letter written in 1875 to her older brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, stated that ‘that no such person (as John) exists of existed’.

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