From 1924 Brangwyn was occupied with what he regarded as the culmination of his life’s work, a mural scheme for the Royal Gallery in the House of Lords, commissioned by Lord Iveagh as a First World War Memorial. The first scheme – which was rejected, and to which this study relates, – showed soldiers and tanks in action. The final scheme, known as The Empire Panels, were installed in Brangwyn Hall, Guildhall, Swansea in 1934.
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, andBritish cities including Birmingham, Cardiff and London attempted to gain the murals.21However, a new Guildhall was being designed forSwansea and the city persuaded Iveagh’s son and Brangwyn that the pan-els 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. Anequal 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 WilliamMorris flora and fauna. Humans have virtually disappeared, hiddenbehind hallucinatory visions of foliage and wildlife infested forest.Critical reaction to the completed panels has varied from the glow-ing: ‘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.
Frank Brangwyn (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.
See all works by Frank Brangwyn