Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956):
Study for the Empire Panels, circa 1925
Framed (ref: 2315)
Oil on canvas, 166 x 27 in. (421.6 x 68.6 cm.)
Provenance: Crosby Cook, and by descent
The British Empire panels were commissioned by the Earl of Iveagh to decorate the Royal Gallery in the House of Lords, Westminster. Following the death of Iveagh, the Fine Art Commission insisted on some panels being placed temporarily in the Gallery. They rejected the work as did the House of Lords. Brangwyn completed the commission which was eventually exhibited at the Ideal Home Exhibition, Olympia. Offers for the panels were received from the USA and Japan, and British cities including Birmingham, Cardiff and London attempted to gain the murals. However, a new Guildhall was being designed for Swansea and the city persuaded Iveagh’s son and Brangwyn that the panels could be successfully accommodated in the main hall, now known as the Brangwyn Hall.
There are over 100 studies for the British Empire panels in public galleries in the UK and Australia, the largest collection being in Swansea, at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and the Guildhall. An equal number probably exists in private collections throughout the world.The British Empire panels represent a sublime mixture of Flemish verdure tapestries and natura naturens, Indonesian paintings, and William Morris flora and fauna. Humans have virtually disappeared, hidden behind hallucinatory visions of foliage and wildlife infested forest. Critical reaction to the completed panels has varied from the glowing: ‘The most splendid unit of decorative painting executed in Europe since Tintoretto ceased his work in the Doge’s Palace at Venice’ to the airily dismissive: ‘All tits and bananas’.
Some of Brangwyn’s ﬁnest studies are those he made for the British Empire panels. He told his friend RH Kitson that he was ‘working from ﬂowers, trees, animals,and black and colored men women and children. It is very interesting more especially the animals and a grand chance for me to take up animals and landscape and do it ﬁnely. It never has really been done only a bit here and there.
We are grateful to Dr. Libby Horner for assistance and for allowing us to use the images.