Frank Brangwyn: an introduction

Who was Frank Brangwyn?

Frank Brangwyn was a polymath, an artist-craftsman who created murals, oils and watercolours, furniture, textiles, ceramics, stained glass and prints. Born to British parents in 1867 in Bruges, Brangwyn moved to London as a child. He lived in the capital for most of his life until moving to Ditchling, where he died in 1956.

Why's he important?

Brangwyn was internationally renowned during his life time, highly regarded in avant-garde circles and created an estimated 12,000 works. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale and was the first artist to be given a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy during his lifetime.

Brangwyn's murals were chosen for Siegfried Bing’s L'Art Nouveau in Paris, the Rockefeller Centre in New York and the Skinners Hall in London.

Why isn't he better known?

Even in his own lifetime Brangwyn was controversial - regarded as a radical one minute, pilloried as an establishment figure the next. He never tried to conform and took pride in resisting trends. He was also unlucky; some of his most important commissions fell through and a key collection of his oils burned down.

After his death his was ignored for half a century, but since 2006 the assessment of his work has been revived, leading to a number of important exhibitions and publications.

What's Brangwyn's connection to William Morris?

Brangwyn briefly worked as an apprentice for Morris's workshop, enlarging designs and tracing drawings. Although he soon left to paint and travel, he shared Morris's believe that art should be available to all.

When he heard of plans to establish a Gallery in Walthamstow, he donated a large part of his own art collection so that local people would "enjoy art and remember Morris".

What techniques did Brangwyn use? Which media did he work in?

"An artist’s function is everything: he must be able to turn his hand to everything, for his mission is to decorate life… he should be able to make pots and pans, doors and walls, monuments or cathedrals, carve, paint, and do everything asked of him."

Frank Brangwyn, 1934

Which of Brangwyn's works can I see at the William Morris Gallery?

The Gallery holds the second largest collection of Brangwyn's work in England, after the British Museum. It includes oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, designs for stained glass, prints, furniture, a carpet, murals, books illustrated by Brangwyn, archival materials and personalia. Our first floor Brangwyn gallery displays a changing selection of his work. 

Where else can I see Brangwyn's work?

All over the world. The Arentshuis Museum in Bruges holds the largest collection of his work, but visit www.frankbrangwyn.org for a full list of galleries and museums in the UK and beyond. You could also try the Art Uk website, as many of Brangwyn’s oils in public collections are included.

Where can I find out more about Brangwyn?

Start by exploring our Brangwyn theme, then browsing more of his work in our collection. We've also picked out some key books on Brangwyn's life and work.

Visit www.frankbrangwyn.org for a much wider range of Brangwyn’s art, a list of collections, bibliography and more. The site is run by Dr Libby Horner, who is working on a catalogue raisonne of his work.