Gerald Leslie Brockhurst: Etchings from the William P. Brumfield Memorial Collection. (Learning from Exhibitions)

By Johnson, Mark M. | Arts & Activities, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Gerald Leslie Brockhurst: Etchings from the William P. Brumfield Memorial Collection. (Learning from Exhibitions)


Johnson, Mark M., Arts & Activities


For an artist who created more than 600 superbly painted portraits--including among them subjects such as Marlene Dietrich, The Duchess of Windsor and J. Paul Getty, Jr.--it may seem surprising that this artist is best known for his etchings. Smaller in number, smaller in presentation and decidedly smaller in size, these prints, particularly between the 1920s and '30s, "are among the most suavely realized and technically adept works of art in any period, but above all, the etchings epitomize an elegance and panache that we associate with the decades between the two world wars." (*)

Born in 1890 in Birmingham, England, and raised by his mother, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst entered the Birmingham Municipal School of Art at the age of 12 before moving to the Schools of the Royal Academy in London, where he earned numerous awards, prizes and a scholarship. He attempted his first etching in 1914, but more eagerly embraced the medium in 1920, creating 19 plates in that year alone. In 1921 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, and exhibited with this group annually thereafter.

Most of Brockhurst's portraits are rather conventional--no big surprises here. Typically the subjects, mainly women, are composed half-length, some closer, looking straight at you, positioned in shallow space, against a ledge, or against a blank background. When the artist places a portrait within a surrounding, like a landscape, that placement often recalls the work of such Italian Renaissance masters, as Leonardo da Vinci.

Like Leonardo's own Mona Lisa, there is also a sense of the unknown, or of mystery, that separates the viewer from some of Brockhurst's sitters. His technique alone distinguishes these images from the standards to which we have grown accustomed. At first many think these prints give the impression of aquatints with their wonderful tonal variations and rendering of transparent effects like watercolor, or mezzotints with their almost photographic-like modeling of facial features. But, indeed, Brockhurst's incredible prints are etchings done line by line, dot by dot. But to this mechanical craftsmanship, the artist added a very human, sensual touch.

As a young student in England, then in Paris and then off to Italy, Brockhurst immersed himself in the art of the 15th-and 16th-century Italian Renaissance. He was dubbed at age 12 as "a young Botticelli." Brockhurst studied the works of Botticelli, Pierro della Francesca, Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto, Michelangelo and Bronzino.

While most of the gentleman recorded by Brockhurst were identifiable individuals, the females were drawn from a small number of models. By changing a pose, setting or costume, the artist could seemingly transform the model into an entirely different person. Some are idealized, others are romanticized. As was also the custom of many artists throughout history, several of his prints depict his first wife, Anais, while others draw inspiration from Kathleen Woodward, whom he married at a later time. …

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