Artist biography

English painter. In 1853 he became a student in the Royal Academy Schools. However, it is clear from Brett's diary that John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites had a more profound effect on his art than did the instruction in the Schools. He read Ruskin's pamphlet on Pre-Raphaelitism in 1852 and thought it ‘gloriously written and containing much earnest, sound, healthy truth'. Around this time he was introduced to the poet Coventry Patmore, whose house was a meeting-place for writers and artists. Here in 1853 Brett met Holman Hunt, an artist he admired and was determined to emulate.

Brett read Ruskin's works avidly. The fourth volume of Modern Painters inspired him to set off for Switzerland where he met J. W. Inchbold, who was also there to paint mountain scenery. Inchbold's methods caused Brett to refine his own technique. The result was the Glacier of Rosenlaui. Greatly encouraged, Brett at once started work on his masterpiece, The Stonebreaker.

Criticism of his work, together with a cooling in Ruskin's enthusiasm, may have been responsible for his decision to abandon landscape subjects for marine painting.

Brett's most successful pictures were panoramic views of the sea. His beach scenes with meticulously rendered boulders and rock formations tend to be laboured and repetitive.

Apart from an obituary in The Times, his death passed almost unnoticed, although William Michael Rossetti pointed out that ‘there is no one to succeed to the precise place which he occupied with distinction'.

A. Staley: The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape (Oxford, 1973)
M. Pointon: ‘Geology and Landscape Painting in 19th-century England', Images of the Earth (Chalfont St Giles, 1978)
D. Cordingly: John Brett 1831–1902 (diss., Brighton, U. Sussex, 1983)
P. Nunn: ‘Rosa Brett: Pre-Raphaelite', Burl. Mag., cxxvi (1984), p. 630 [with a checklist of known works]
The Pre-Raphaelites (exh. cat., London, Tate, 1984)
P. Nunn: ‘Case Histories: Rosa Brett', Victorian Women Artists (London, 1987), pp. 187–200


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