Chelmsford Museum tastes success at auction by snaring work of Slade professor

PUBLISHED: 10:52 26 October 2009 | UPDATED: 07:26 30 May 2010

CHELMSFORD Museum has succeeded in snaring at auction its first work by locally born painter and Slade professor Frederick Brown (1851 -1941) – after being thwarted in its attempt to acquire a similar painting by the artist that went under the hammer in 2

CHELMSFORD Museum has succeeded in snaring at auction its first work by locally born painter and Slade professor Frederick Brown (1851 -1941) - after being thwarted in its attempt to acquire a similar painting by the artist that went under the hammer in 2007.

Independent charity The Art Fund pledged grants on both occasions; this time the work, Peasant Fare, was successfully acquired at a Sotheby's sale for £12,875 with an Art Fund grant of £3098.

The painting, which dates from 1883, is a historical genre scene depicting two female servants working by a window, one old and seated and the other young and upright, apparently preparing a meal.

Acting director of The Art Fund, Andrew Macdonald, said: "Chelmsford Museum has long hoped to acquire a work by Frederick Brown, a significant artist and educator who was born and brought up in the area, and I'm delighted that The Art Fund has helped the museum realise this ambition."

It is a particularly fitting addition to the collection as Brown actually exhibited at an event held in aid of the museum in 1881, which was organised by his father and Chelmsford drawing master William Brown.

Chelmsford Borough Council's cabinet member for parks and heritage, Cllr Christopher Kingsley, said: "We are glad to have this picture by a Chelmsford artist, so appropriate for display in the Victorian surroundings of the old part of the museum.

"We are very grateful to The Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and the Essex Heritage Trust for their help purchasing this painting, which we could not otherwise have acquired, also to Peter Nahum for his advice and help in the auction."

The picture is in good condition but the museum will undertake minor conservation work before it goes on display in 2010. The canvas will be cleaned and re-stretched and the frame restored.

It is an early work by Brown, from his most innovatory period. The subject matter, a scene of working-class life, and the use of the newly developed square brush are typical of the young French-influenced artists who formed the Impressionist group the New English Art Club in 1885. Brown played a large part in its foundation and was one of the authors of its constitution, alongside John Singer Sargent and Stanhope Forbes.

A decade after the painting was created, Brown became Professor at the Slade School of Art, succeeding the progressive Alphonse Legros and consolidating the latter's reforms. Brown occupied the post for a quarter of a century, influencing many leading artists of the late 19th and the 20th century, including Augustus John, William Orpen and Wyndham Lewis.

Additional funding towards the purchase came from the Essex Heritage Trust, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Pilgrim Trust.

The Art Fund, which helps museums and galleries buy works of art for their collections, and campaigns on their behalf, has given Chelmsford Museum 14 grants since 1992, totalling over £44,000.

Two works by Chelmsford-born artist Edward Middleditch, Seascape 1 and Untitled (Reflections), were recently acquired with the help of an Art Fund grant of £13,000, towards a total cost of £14,000. Seascape 1 went on display for the first time this October.


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