'Polpeor Cove, The Lizard, Cornwall' by John Brett was selected as the featured work for December to mark the anniversary of Brett's death 110 years ago. Brett skilfully evokes the fresh, natural beauty of the Cornish coast, with its jagged grey-brown rocks and turquoise blue water.
Polpeor Cove is a small coastal inlet just west of The Lizard (also known as Lizard Point). It is a narrow peninsula and the most southerly part of England. The rocky waters in the area are particularly treacherous for passing vessels and a lifeboat station was first established at the Cove in about 1859. However, three of the rescuers were killed in 1866, when the lifeboat was smashed against rocks during a hurricane. A larger lifeboat was provided for the station in 1885 and there is still a disused lifeboat house at Polpeor Cove today.
Painter John Brett was born in Bletchingley, Surrey, the son of an army captain. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools from 1854 and, early in his career, became a great admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites and the writings of John Ruskin. Brett was so impressed by the fourth volume of Ruskin's book 'Modern Painters' (subtitled 'Of Mountain Beauty') that he travelled to Switzerland to paint the Glacier of Rosenlaui. He later became a friend of Ruskin, who advised and tutored him, although Ruskin was not always complimentary of Brett's work and the two men eventually had a falling out.
In 1870 Brett married Mary Ann Howcroft, with whom he had seven children. During the 1870s he turned almost exclusively to marine subjects and owned a succession of sailing boats, from which some of his coastal scenes were painted. Brett spent many summers on the Cornish coast, painting numerous smaller works like this example. Some were later used as the basis for larger paintings, exhibited at the Royal Academy. In total, Brett is thought to have made over 200 studies of the coast of Cornwall. A visitor to the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1881, which included a Cornish landscape by Brett, was struck by the artist's obvious affection for the area: 'Those who in anyway equal Mr Brett in his love for the Cornish coast will find it hard to tear themselves away from this picture.'
Brett also became a keen astronomer and, in 1871, was elected a member of the Royal Astronomical Society. For much of his career, he lived at addresses just north of Oxford Street in London. However, in 1877 he designed and built a bungalow at Keswick Road, Putney. In 1888 he built a larger house, Daisyfield, on Putney Heath, moving there in the following year. Brett remained at Daisyfield with his family until his death in 1902.