English watercolorist. Baptized
Hercules Brabazon Sharpe, he inherited the family estates in 1847 and 1858,
which occasioned a legal change in his surname. From that date Brabazon
dedicated himself to watercolor, living in Sussex during part of the year and
traveling annually on the Continent, especially to the Alps and the Mediterranean.
He also visited Africa, India and the Middle East in the 1860s and 1870s and
produced thousands of landscapes during his career, for example Street in Cairo.
Brabazon studied briefly with James D’Egville and Alfred Downing Fripp, but he
was largely a self-taught amateur, learning from his contemporaries and from
the Old Masters, particularly Velázquez, whose works he copied. His broad style
is closest to early 19th-century painters, including David Cox, Peter de Wint,
William James Muller and J. M. W. Turner. Ruskin and D. S. MacColl praised
Brabazon as Turner’s rival as a colourist. Brabazon’s watercolors link the
impressionistic fluid technique of early 19th-century painters to the work of progressive
English artists of the fin-de-siècle, influenced by Whistler and the French.
Hercules Brabazon Brabazon was born in Paris in 1821, his name was originally
Hercules Brabazon Sharpe. Brabazon
was the youngest son of Hercules Sharpe. He trained at Cambridge University, he inherited
vast amounts of wealth, lands and titles
upon the death of his older brother in 1847 followed by his father in 1858.
He spent the
remainder of his life on the French Riviera, with the occasional trip to North
Africa, the Middle East, and India. He was a wealthy amateur musician and painter,
that knew Franz Liszt and J.S. Sargent. As an early member of the New English Art
Club, he held his first one man exhibition in 1892 at the age of 71. Sir Frederick Wedmore,
said he was "a country gent, who at seventy
years old made his debut as a professional artist, and straightaway became
Brabazon combines the effects of Joseph Mallord William Turner,
with the suggestive brush and color idealisms of Richard Parkes
Bonington. Using slightly tinted paper to soften the light and
establish the basic feel of the image. Brabazon can treat most of the large
areas the sky, walls and water as negative space, and simply paint areas of
highlight, shadow, or bright color. His
color accents follow the traditional emphasis on blues and reds, softened
gently so that they can be used in larger areas.
One of Brabazon's favorite places to visit on his tours was Venice,
a favorite place that he painted often, occasionally in the company of John
Singer Sargent. Venice
provides a good comparison to a scene painted by Joseph Mallord William
works Brabazon studied at the British Museum, and admired throughout his life.
Unlike a Turner painting, where the sunlight is often direct and very bright,
Brabazon shows the waters of Venice under the
late afternoon clouds, sunshine beaming from the clouds like milk from a beautiful
pitcher. Brabazon uses white opaque pigment very sparingly to suggest the
bell tower opening, the public walkway lights and their reflections in the
water, these touches linking the city silhouette to the sky and making the
greenish waters appear to be richer in color. The gondola is painted in exactly four brushstrokes, highlighting the
precise way in which the whole painting is accomplished. Brabazon's paintings
often mimic the style of Chinese sumi paintings done with
rapid light strokes of the brush.
Brabazon's paintings have a unique style of
visual impressionism. In his painting titled The Distant Town
represents an unknown Tuscan city from a nearby hill, and seems to show
that realist detail or impressionist brushworks are kinds of
artistic meandering, obsessively distorting what is actually a vague
envelope of perception.
He would slightly moisten his colored paper, to diffuse the brushstrokes as they are applied.
Brabazon displays the
warmth of a overcast Italian afternoon. The depth is pointed out
unknowingly by the
foreground bushes, contrasted against the snow covered
distant peaks of the hillsides. The two colors mingle in the distance as
the walls and roofs of the town, highlighted by dark blues from the
mountains and the earthy yellow of the foreground fields; the closeness of
buildings show the jagged design of the peaks.
He also mixes transparent colors with opaque white to give areas of the
painting more substance or light, just as Turner did. Many of his paintings are
merely puddles of two or three colors, or a horizon described as quick brushstrokes.
Despite his unwillingness to display his works in public and his retirement, Brabazon was a hardworking
artist who combined the
direction of Bonington and Turner into his own highly innovative style. It's
unclear how much he may have been influenced by the watercolors of
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, but both artists made remarkable strides in
fusing minimal palettes and strongly abstracted designs with the plain air
experience of landscape. In fact, Brabazon's approach was not equaled until the
paintings of the California scenery of the early 1940's.
Brabazon gently guided the direction that the painting would take by creating
some of the most personal, eye-catching and spontaneous watercolors of the 19th
Source: The Water Color World. 1st ed. : Hannover Publishing, 1985.