T03414 Brittany: 1914 c.1920
Oil on canvas 30 1/4 × 36 1/2 (768 × 926)
Inscribed ‘E Reginald Frampton’ b.r.
Purchased from a private collector through Roy Miles Fine Paintings Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Fine Art Society 1920; Joseph Bibby, Birkenhead 1924; Bibby family until 1979, sold Sotheby's Belgravia, 2 October 1979 (260, repr. in col.); ...; Roy Miles Fine Paintings Ltd 1981; ...
Exh: RA Summer Exhibition 1920 (62); Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Watercolours by the late E. Reginald Frampton, Fine Art Society, March 1924 (22); Summer Show of Post-Impressionist and Victorian Paintings, Roy Miles Fine Paintings, May–June 1981 (no catalogue no., repr.)
This picture is probably unique in Frampton's oeuvre on account of its subject matter. By 1910 Frampton had gained recognition as a mural artist, fulfilling commissions for churches. He was also a regular contributor to the RA summer exhibitions from 1910 to 1923, submitting easel paintings with a religious or symbolic content. T03414 has a prominently religious theme but is allied to contemporary subject material, and this is what makes it rare for Frampton; a young soldier and his female companion kneel in prayer in front of a wayside shrine before he goes off to war. This is made clear by Frampton's inclusion of the date 1914 as part of the painting's title.
During the period of his RA summer exhibition submissions, 1910–23, Frampton lived at 1 Brook Green Studios, Brook Green, London, but a letter of March 1913 in the archives of Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford, reveals that Frampton spent some time in 1911 painting ‘in a little fishing village in the extreme north west corner of Finistère...’ This letter was written by Frampton when Cartwright Hall purchased his ‘A Madonna of Brittany’ of 1911, a work which bears similarities in terms of scenic background and figure type to T03414. The artist had tended to include a landscape background in his earlier works for decorative reasons, but his ‘A Madonna of Brittany’ includes two sections of recognisable Breton scenery, ‘part of the Rade de Brest’. Increasingly after 1911 Frampton took to painting landscapes which are true to fact and which take a greater prominence in the picture composition. Much of the composition of T03414 is occupied with the faithful rendering of a section of the Breton coastal landscape, with the depiction of the harbour of Camaret-sur-Mer, on the southern coastline of the Rade de Brest. Situated near the end of the harbour wall is the 17th century chapel of Notre Dame de Rocamadour. St Amadour was an early medieval saint who was believed to have lived on an isolated hillside in what has now become the village of Rocamadour in south west France, and to have devoted his life to the Virgin Mary. The young soldier and his female companion kneel and pray in front of a wooden wayside shrine which bears a painted wooden figure of the Virgin, dressed in blue and white robes and adopting the crossed arm pose of acceptance. The soldier wears the uniform of a private in the French infantry, with his red kepi in his hands, red trousers, dark blue overcoat crossed by webbing holding his rifle, pack and blanker roll. This bright and nationalistic uniform was discontinued c.1915 when the French army chose an infantry uniform of duller hue, more in line with German and British uniforms. The girl wears a black cloak over a brown dress and a white cotton Breton coif. The girl's facial features are extremely close to a female figure depicted in two other Frampton paintings. One is ‘A Madonna of Brittany’ 1911, mentioned above, in which the girl faces left with her hands raised in prayer and wears a transparent voile coif over her plaited blond hair. The other is ‘A Maid of Bruges’ c.1919 (sold Sotheby's 21 June 1983, 101 repr. in col.). The girl faces right and wears a similar coif to that in T03414, only here, instead of being rolled back to form an edge, the two side flaps of the coif fall down either side of her face. T03414 has a scattering of pink flowers in the foreground; they are not botanically accurate but they look rather like pinks or carnations, and this flower iconographically stands as a symbol of betrothal. It is possible that Frampton intended these flowers, and the turned back coif of the girl (more revealing than the coif with flaps worn by a ‘maid’) to indicate that the girl and the soldier were betrothed.
The compiler is grateful to Philip New for information about the soldier's uniform.
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986