Fred H. Brigden -
He who recurs to nature at every recurrence recurs his strength. - Reynolds
If Mr. Collings inclines to fantasy, Mr. Brigden keeps his feet solidly on earth, a pedestrian like David Cox, who has no inclination to adventure upon flights of fancy, to whom nature in her gentler moods displays a beauty unsurpassed. He relies entirely upon an exceptionally refined sense of selection, which, though his vision is essentially objective, gives a quality to his urbane landscapes that is akin to idealism.
He came from England to Toronto, with his parents, at an early age. He has since recorded the scenic beauties of the Dominion with a sympathetic brush, and may be described truly as a Canadian painter. He has sketched in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, the eastern townships of Quebec, the Laurentians, Northern Ontario, and a great deal in the neighbourhood of Toronto, particularly in the Don Valley, where he has his summer home. He is one of the noble army of week-end artists; and sketching tours have been permissible only upon his periodic holidays. He is managing director of the large engraving business that bears his father's name, and president of the Western branch. Opportunities for uninterrupted studio work have been few, but he contrives to complete enough large paintings both in oil and water-colour for the year's exhibitions, fulfilling his duty in that respect as president of the Ontario Society of the Canadian Water-colour Society.
His snow pictures - he has painted many - are worked up from pencil notes, but his chief enthusiasm is for carrying sketches to completion on the spot. He enjoys the hazards of sketching, the uncertainty of what is going to be achieved. a sketcher, he said to me, has his good days, when he comes home rejoicing, and also days when he is very glad to cover up the score. In this way also Mr. Brigden reminds me of David Cox, who would say, "I can't paint at all to-day, nature is too hard for me". Engaging modesty!
If Mr. Brigden had spent his life in England, he might possibly hav sought inspiration in its sodden skies, but his sketching stool is unfolded only in the mallow days of late summer. The low sun which sheds a glamorous light over the Canadian scene at the season, shines more rarely in the country that Cox knew. Thus gray and gold each has its champion, and the glory of each its intimate interpreter.
In the landscapes of Mr. Brigden it is always afternoon; earth flaunts her motherhood; peace and warmth and splendour assume a cosmic significance; there is no discordant note; snow loses its repellant attributes and sparkles irresistibly, suavely chromatic. They claim affection, these views of laughing water, smiling skies, and happy fields where joy forever dwells. He lavishes upon a cascade tumbling through a remote forest the same friendly spirit as upon a brook burbling through a meadow. It is as impossible for him to do otherwise as it was for the older master to depict scenes that were in any way forbidding. It is a matter of character and predilection. Only a nature lover can depict its varying aspects emotionally. "He best can paint them who shall feel them most" wrote Pope. The poet was a painter, too, and thus anticipated the modern belief that emotion is the prime motive in pictorial art.
His technique -
Mr. Brigden invariably completed a sketch at one sitting which may comprise four busy hours, and he endeavours to keep his first impression of the scene in tact. His care in determining the best possible arrangement, in fact, of impressing on his mind the final aspect of the subject in full tone and colour, before making a mark on the paper, cannot be too highly commended. Frequently he views the scene through a paper frame of the same proportion as the picture is intended to be, held at arm's length. A rectangular cut in a post-card serves the purpose. Thus he is better able to visualize and arrive at a good composition, the best possible in the circumstances, which is perfected after drawing a few tentative arrangements in his sketch book.
Now he delineates carefully the main features of the composition, with pencil, and he proceed to fill in the spaces with direct washes. He strives to avoid going over the surface more than once, but sometimes he is forced to abandon this ideal method, and to superimpose other washes. He achieves luminosity by adding pure colour as the wash is flowed on, that is, by mixing pigment on the paper. This is the dry method most suitable for out-door work, In the studio he often keeps the paper damp, but invariably finishes with the accents provided by well defined touches applied to dry paper.
Mr Brigden is a purist. He does not use Chinese white to give body to his colours, and he does not scrape, nor sponge, nor scrub, relying solely upon direct washer, or touches for his effect.
The beginner perceives much virtue in the methods
of a master. His exact procedures, his palette,
and perhaps his manner of wielding a brush, are matters of supreme interest. For water-colourists, however, use the same set of pigments, as Vast is the modern range, and technique is a variable quantity. For his information, Mr. Brigden's palette, inherited from C. M. Manley, a Toronto painter, follows:-
Yellow Ochre Burnt Sienna Vermilion French
Aureolin Burnt Umber Light Red Cobalt
Raw Sienna Raw Umber Rose Madder Viridian
Antwerp and Cerulean blues occasionally.
Some of Mr. Brigden"s sketches have that quality of permanence which keeps them forever in the mind. I cannot forget his renderings of the cedars in the Don Valley, by the smoothly flowing stream, in a blue haze o shadow, with the middle-distance bathed in a warm sweet light, nor his visions of cliffs and forests receding along the north shore of a placid Superior on a glamorous afternoon, or leaping rapids in a northern river, of a mighty falls flinging a humid mist of spray, like a veil, over the forest, and of young poplars and wild rose and the illimitable distances of the prairie.
By comparing Mr. Brigden with David Cox, I
had in mind their similarity of outlook, and their common traits.
In style, if it is proper to write of artistic affinities, Mr.
Brigden might more justly be describes as a disciple of Peter
De Wint. Their paintings sometimes have quite a remarkable resemblance.
Table of Contents