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 famous."

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 Turner, whose 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 glass 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  he 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 century.


Source: The Water Color World. 1st ed. : Hannover Publishing, 1985.

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