Brangwyn, Frank

(1867 – 1956)

The artist working on the Rockefeller Murals, at The Brighton Pavillion


9 1/2 x 11 3/8 in. (24.1 x 29 cm)


Edgar Peacock

Brangwyn did not travel to New York to paint the Rockefeller murals.  Instead he remained in England and painted them on canvases which would later be shipped across the Atlantic.  Finding that his studio in Ditchling was too small he arranged to paint his compositions in the Brighton Pavilion.

Brangwyn’s four large murals for the RCA building  are still in situ in the entrance hall, decorating the area of the south corridor elevator shafts, each measuring 17 x 25ft. 
J. D. Rockefeller Jr. had originally approached Pablo Picasso (1881‚Äì1973) and Henri Matisse (1869‚Äì1964), but both artists turned the commission down. 
Brangwyn, Josep Maria Sert i Badia (1874‚Äì1945) and Diego Rivera (1886‚Äì1957) were subsequently appointed to carry out the scheme. The three artists were briefed to work on canvas, (of which no more than 75% was to be covered), to paint en grisaille and to include some lettering in their designs. The broad subject matter of the murals was ‘New Frontiers’, encompassing aspects of a modern society, including science, labor, education, travel, finance and spirituality. 
Brangwyn was assigned four themes expressing man’s search for eternal truth: Man Laboring; Man the Creator; Man the Master; Man’s Ultimate Destiny. 

In May 1933, the murals made headline news when a public dispute arose between Rockefeller and Rivera; Rivera had included a portrait of Lenin on one of his canvases, and it was subsequently destroyed. In September 1933, Brangwyn also faced controversy when objections were made to his inclusion of Christ in a scene representing the Sermon on the Mount. To solve the dispute, Brangwyn discreetly reversed his figure ‚Äì as seen in the image below. The irony that Christ had turned his back on Rockefeller was not lost on some observers. 

Finding his studio in Ditchling too small to accommodate the murals, Brangwyn was granted permission to use one of the rooms in the Brighton Pavillion to carry out his work. He never saw his paintings in situ. 

Brangwyn’s Rockefeller murals are similar in spirit to many of the works produced for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) scheme. Brangwyn’s murals also bare comparison to the Soviet realist aesthetic of the period, in which workingmen and women were celebrated in patriotic images. 

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Brangwyn, Frank

1867 – 1956

Frank Brangwyn was born in Bruges, Belgium, the son of an English father and Welsh mother. The family returned to London in 1874, Brangwyn’s father gaining work as a designer of buildings, embroideries and furniture. Although Brangwyn appears to have had little formal education, whether academic or artistic, his earliest mentors were three of the most influential men in design at the turn of the century: Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, William Morris and Siegfried Bing. Between 1884 and 1887 Brangwyn travelled to Kent, Cornwall and Devon, before venturing further with trips to Turkey in 1888, South Africa in 1891, Spain in 1892 and Morocco in 1893.

Brangwyn was an independent artist, an experimenter and innovator, capable of working on both large and small scale projects, ranging from murals, oil paintings, watercolours, etchings, woodcuts and lithographs to designs for architecture, interiors, stained glass, furniture, carpets, ceramics and jewellery, as well as book illustrations, bookplates and commercial posters. It is estimated that he produced over 12,000 works during his lifetime. Mural commissions included the Worshipful Company of Skinners, London (1902-09), St Aidan’s church, Leeds (1908-16), Manitoba Legislative Building, Winnipeg, Canada (1918-21), Christ’s Hospital, Horsham (1912-23), State Capitol, Jefferson City, USA (1915-25), the British Empire panels, Swansea (1925-32), and Rockefeller Center, New York (1930-34). Brangwyn married Lucy Ray in 1896 and took on the lease of Temple Lodge, Hammersmith, in 1900. In 1918 the artist purchased The Jointure, Ditchling, where he spent most of his time following his wife’s death in 1924. Elected RA in 1919, knighted in 1924, holder of countless artistic awards, Brangwyn was modest about his singular achievements, regarding art as an occupation and describing himself as a designer.


Book plate for Brangwyn’s Wife, Lucy
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, original design for T N Foulis, circa 1910
The Last Supper, St Joseph’s, Stokesley, 1946
Parrot – Original Study for the Great Empire Panels
Bricklayers, a study for Rebuilding Belgium, 1915
War Bonds 2 (Back Him Up, Buy War Bonds) W1930, circa 1918
Study for the Empire Panels in red chalk, circa 1925
Drapery Study for a Station of the Cross, circa 1933
Study for central panel of Nativity window, St Mary the Virgin, Bucklebury, Berkshire, early 1920’s
Study of Man Carrying Rifle, Study for Jefferson City
Study of a Monk, full length three-quarter view, Study for St Aidan
Man Singing, study for Christ’s Hospital, panel 7
Studies for St Amand and St Eloi ‘ windows in the Abbey St Andr’, Bruges
Study of Figure with Vessel, study for Venice Biennale 1905
Working Men, study for Lloyds Register of Shipping
Working photomontage for Man’s Ultimate Destiny, Rockefeller, 1933
The 2nd Station: Jesus Carries His Cross, c.1934
Design for Thurstons for a Billiard Table, circa 1902