At the beginning of the present century [19th century] Brangwyn entered into occupation of Temple Lodge, Hammersmith, and there he remained until the Great War – the one that began in 1914 – bombed him out of London. It was the first house of his own. He took it on lease, but would have secured the freehold if he had been able. His roving days were over. He had married, and settled down as well. Not that settling down had followed immediately upon marriage: there had. on the contrary, been an interval during which the the Brangwyns had flitted restlessly from place to place, and not at first together.
They were married on 28 January 1896, at the Registry Office of Saint George’s, Hanover Square. Lucy Brangwyn, whose maiden name was Ray, was a trained nurse and had worked in a North London hospital before running a nursing-home of her own. A few days after the wedding the husband departed for Italy and the wife resumed her nursing. It was an absurd arrangement, but one dictated by obligations from which Brangwyn could not honourably escape, and funds did not permit of their going away together. He went to Assisi and from there to Venice, and the autumn saw him at Longpre, where his wife joined him. When they returned to London they lived for a time in a flat in Victoria Street, Westminster, and Brangwyn, having sub-let his Stratford Road studio before he went to Italy, worked for a brief period in the studio that Mackmurdo had build over the garden of his Adam house in Fitzroy Street – “a fashionable unfashionable artists’ quarter” as Sir William Rothenstein remembers it a year or two late. Whistler’s studio was in Fitzroy Street and Sickert was shortly to migrate there. Various relations and friends including Selwyn Image and his wife, were accommodated in Mackmurdo’s house and they fed in common at what Rothenstein describes – in Men and Memories – as an ancient oak table, but which, according to Branwyns’s recollection, was of deal violently scrubbed.
Soon the Brangyns moved to a flat in Kensington, near the Carmelite Church, and Mrs. Brangwyn went about looking for a house. She discovered that there was “a board up” at Temple Lodge, a house that Brangwyn well remembered among the pleasant Hammersmith sights. She learned from the caretaker that the last tenant was an old lady who employed six servants: the caretaker was positive that the house could not be run with fewer than three. Brangwyn felt that it was altogether “too big a proposition.” Mrs. Brangwyn, however was more sanguine. So Brangwyn asked the landlord of his Kensington studio for a reference and the landlord gave it the more willingly because, a s he said, Brangwyn was the only artist of his acquaintance who had made a habit of paying his rent! By an odd coincidence it turned out that the landlord had himself been the tenant of Temple Lodge.
Brangwyn was now earning between £400 and £500 a year. He had established a reputation but, as he puts it, there were many artists with bigger reputations who could not sell a picture. His most reliable source of income was the Graphic, which he describes as “a positive Eldorado for artists.” He was paid £16 for a drawing, and whenever he was hard up he would set to and do three or four. These drawings were his stand-by. Painting he did for “the love of the thing,” and often he would exchange a picture for a piece of furniture. “I furnished by swapping,” he says.
The garden was stocked by a Roehampton nurseryman – the first to grow tomatoes in this country on a large scale in exchange for sketches.
“Anyone looking at the exotic plants in my garden, “Brangwyn told me, “might have thought me a millionaire.”
The Brangwyn of those days has been described as still looking boyish, with a pump, clean-shaven face on which a hard struggle for recognition has left no ageing lines; short at stature, brown of hair, and brown and very humour some of eye: as delightfully boyish in manner as in looks: absolutely unaffected, ford of a joke, devoted to his art, and “exhibiting the engaging simplicity of a great temperament.”
Married life irked him somewhat at first. “I had been accustomed for so long to do as I liked, he told me. “But that stage soon passed and I became the ideal husband. At any rate, I was always at home, what? My wife was my pal, and although she had little technical knowledge of art she was a sound critic.”
Much of Mrs. Brangwyn’s time must have been absorbed by her household duties, for there is no doubt that Temple Lodge was a difficult place to manage, with a cavernous basement, two floors full of bedrooms, and – a museum. And the bulk of the work was performed by Mrs. Brangwyn and one servant, the faithful Lizzie. Later, after a long engagement, Lizzie became Mrs. Peacock, and left the Brangwyns for a time. But peacock was an Army Reservist and in 1914 he rejoined the colours and was among the earliest casualties in France. Mrs. Peacock, now with a baby, became Lizzie again – she is still Lizzie – and returned to Temple Lodge.
Temple Lodge, when the Brangwyns moved into it, was a quiet, secluded spot in a neighbourhood that yet retained a slightly countrified air. High walls shut out the noises of Queen Street in front and enclosed a peaceful garden at the back. At night one could hear the steam-tugs hooting their way along the river. On one side was a dignified old house that later made way for the Convent of the Sisters of Misericorde; on the other, Brangwyn’s huge studio, forty feet square. Another old house stood opposite, until an immense ungainly block of flats arose in its stead.
A roomy Georgian house it was, with a Doric portico, approached by a flagged forecourt in which square boxes held Japanese magnolias. Against the wall of the forecourt Brangwyn fixed the cast of a fragment of frieze from the Parthenon, with riders and horses.
The visitor found himself in the exquisitely arranged home of a man whose taste was faultless; of a man, moreover, who had not only “settled down,” but turned collector. He had not only “settled down,” but turned collector. He had always possessed the flair for collecting, but never the means of expressing it since his childhood, when he collected bottles in the Bruges garden! Every object visible – except, perhaps, the artist’s hats – was a thing of beauty. The wall colourings were grey-brown and biscuit, an unobtrusive background against which the cabinets, pictures and pottery shone each with its own distinctive radiance. Bokhara rugs gave warmth and richness to the floors. In the hall a bronze bust of the young artist, by Drury, face the visitors from the top of an old Nuremberg cabinet, flanked by ancient Japanese pots. Over the diminutive fireplace was a Della Robbia bas-relief. On one wall, a shipping scene by Vanderveldt; by the window, next to a comfortable grandfather clock, a slender oleander.
One of the three doors opening from the hall led to the dining-room; a period piece, furnished by Sheraton and Chippendale, supported by Japanese prints and Persian pottery. The other doors both communicated with the drawing-room, a truly noble apartment, as transformed by Brangwyn; a museum of cabinets, each a masterpiece, pictures by Japanese painters, and the jars, bowls and pots that Brangwyn has always found irresistible.
From the drawing-room the visitor descended by two steps to the studio. The studio enclosed part of the house frontage, and one of the upper rooms, which Brangwyn used as a sitting-room looked down into it. Brangwyn built a gallery against this was, but it could be entered only by climbing out of the sitting-room window and it was never completed. The change from drawing-room to studio was one from meticulous museum-like precision to lordly disorder that was, however, more apparent than real.
It was the studio that saw most of Brangwyn, and when he was not at work he relaxed usually in the dining-room. the sitting-room – in which he read and wrote – or the garden. The drawing-room was pleasant enough in summer. with its long windows opening upon the sunny garden, but in winter it must have been icy, for Brangwyn not only added to its extent but closed up the fireplaces, and the only warmth that reached it came from the studio stove – when the studio door was open.
There was never a great deal of entertaining; it was limited to Sunday afternoons, when artist friends dropped in with their wives and their host improvised games of bowls on the lawn.
Brangwyn did a lot of walking, with his sketch-book, and often his wife accompanied him. Hammersmith has changed sadly since then. Most of the old “bits” in which artists delighted have been swept away long since by “improvements,” and little remains, even on the river-front, to remind one that Hammersmith ever had an individuality and a tradition. A favourite walk of the Brangwyns was along the lane that led to Craven Cottage, a popular rendezvous of the neighbourhood with a thatched roof and a ballroom. But the tall trees that Brangwyn was swaying in the wind survive only in his etchings. The glories of Craven Cottage, however tawdry, and its ghosts, if any, have departed; instead, there is the thunderous noise of the multitude that cheers it champions to victory, or defeat, on the battle-ground of the Fulham Football Club.
Of the few neighbours with whom Brangwyn became at all intimate one was Sir William Richmond, whose “tall” stories and grandiose improvisations were an unfailing source of delight.
“I was one of the last to see him alive,” Brangwyn told me. “When he was dying they moved him to the groundfloor of his house. The nurse did not want to let me in, but Billy hear me arrive and called out.
“I’m done,” he told me.
“Not a bit of it,” I replied. ” You’ll paint yards of stuff yet.”
“Of course I ought to have gone in every day and bucked him up, but there are so many things that I ought to have done, or ought not to have done.”
It was in his early Hammersmith days that Brangwyn became associated with Mr. Stiles, the gilder and picture-frame maker. The workshops of A. Stiles and Sons now cover a considerable area, despite the modest frontage in Brook Green Road, but when Brangwyn moved into Temple Lodge Stiles had only just started in business on his own, as a young man of twenty-five, in premises since cleared away in the widening of Hammersmith Broadway. Brangwyn was his first customer of any importance. He ordered a frame that was to cost two-pounds-ten, and the eight pounds that Stiles spent on it was to pro
ve a lucrative investment. It has been Stiles’s function, as well as supplying frames, to handle and pack Brangwyn’s great murals for shipment abroad and also to erect those that have been set up in this country.
Though the Temple Lodge studio was large, it proved to be by no means too large for the work on which the artist soon found himself engaged. He began to “paint big.” In addition to working on easel pictures, watercolours, pastels, etchings, lithographs, and essays in various forms of applied art, he embarked on his career as the painter of large-scale mural decorations.
Macer-Wright, Philip (1940). Brangwyn, A study of Genius at Close Quarters. London: Hutchinson & Co.