Paul Johnson

Landscape Without Figures

John Brett: Pre-Raphaelite Landscape Painter

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The tendency of art historians and dealers to put lesser-known artists into recognisable categories does not work to the latter’s advantage. The term ‘Pre-Raphaelite landscape painter’ has come into use in recent years and is here applied to John Brett (1831–1902), an outstandingly idiosyncratic artist who was always sui generis and quite incapable by temperament of belonging to any school or group. It is true that his first successful work, The Stonebreaker (1857–8), showing a boy breaking stones for roadworks against a highly detailed background of hills and woods, is in the Pre-Raphaelite manner, superficially at least. It has been for many years in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, where it has proved hugely popular. But this is the only one of Brett’s major finished works which can accurately be described as Pre-Raphaelite. 

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