Hercules Brabazon Brabazon (1821 - 1906)
Hercules Brabazon Brabazon was born in Paris on November 27th, 1821, the younger son of Hercules Sharpe, of Blackballs, Durham, and of Oaklands, Battle.
"One of the renowned rose gardens of East Sussex," writes Mrs. Harvey T. Brabazon Combe in her "Notes on the Life of the Artist," "was arranged by the late Colonel Brown at Demons, the home of Brabazon's childhood. Here the child would rush out during May, after lesson-time, to observe the beauty of colour in the apple orchards of Northiam. In his later days I loved to drive with him on sketching expeditions to Northiam, when he would often talk of the past and of his school life, especially of his journeys with his brother William to his mother's home, Brabazon Park, in the far west of Ireland, taking four days by coach and sea. His uncle and host, Sir William Brabazon, was an ardent supporter of O'Connell, ideas imbued no doubt from his maternal uncle, Sir Capel Molyneux, the patriot. It was to his connection with the Spencer family that Brabazon owed his early artistic awakening. Charles, Lord Lucan, was guardian, with Lady Brabazon, of Sir William Brabazon and his two sisters, who afterwards became Mrs. Sharpe of Oaklands and Lady Teynham. Sir William was sent by his guardians in early days to travel in Italy with his cousin, Lord Althorp, son of the great art patron, Lord Spencer, of Reynolds renown.
This, no doubt, led to the sisters, with their mother, also travelling, and in 1819 Hercules Sharpe and Ann Brabazon met in Rome, were married, and became the parents of four children: William Brabazon of Brabazon Park, H. B. Brabazon the artist, Anthony who died an infant, and Ann Sarah (Mrs. Combe), who passed away at Oaklands in 1911."
The subject of this memoir, Hercules Sharpe, took the name of Brabazon in 1847, under the will of his uncle. Sir William Brabazon, Bart. When he succeeded his elder brother, William, in the Brabazon estates at Ballinasloe, County Galway, and Roscommon, and Brabazon Park, County Mayo. In 1858, on the death of his father, he inherited the Sussex property at Oaklands, near Battle, Sussex, and the Durham estate. Black-halls Manor, Durham, came to the family through Brass Crosby (Brabazon's great uncle), Lord Mayor of London in 1771. The presentation silver cup (of which there is a picture in Lofties "History of London") and his portrait are now heirlooms at Oaklands. In the "Memoir of Brass Crosby," published in 1829, I find that the Sharpes Hercules Brabazon's father and his learned brother, Sir Cuthbert Sharpe, F.S.A. were grandsons of Cuthbert Sharpe and his wife Mary Rafton. In a quaint old will their ancestor, Thomas Sharpe, bequeathed, in 1559, his estate in trust for "My wife and my V Chellder whom I make my executors ... for all my lands in hertillpull" [Hartlepool]. Blackballs and the other Sharpe estates are now part of Castle Eden Collieries, the last portion of which was sold by H. B. Brabazon. These facts, on the authority of R. Surtees in the "Memoir of Brass Crosby," are fully to be relied upon, as he was a lifelong friend of Sir Cuthbert Sharpe and a fellow historian. It would also appear that relatives of H. B. Brabazon's went to America. One, an uncle of Brass Crosby's, settled in Virginia, where he rose to affluence, and left Crosby descendants.
Another, Brass Crosby's brother, after serving some time as a lieutenant in the navy, died in New York in 1780. The Memoir, quoting from Surtees' "History of Durham," also says: “Some respectable families of the same name, claiming descent from this Yorkshire family, are resident in Philadelphia, and there is a populous town called Crosby, County of Hamilton, Ohio."
Brabazon, who loved flowers, perpetuating their fragile life in watercolours so delicate that they seem hardly able to survive handling, came to know and to love flowers in the days of his childhood in the rose-garden of Domons. It is pleasant to think of him lingering there, rushing out in May, “when his lessons were over, to observe the beauty of colour in the apple orchards of Northiam."
The love of colour was instinct in him. One of his delights, when quite a small child, was to handle a ruby owned by his mother, to gaze at it, to hold it against the light, to flash and turn the wonder-thing, and make it reveal the subtleties of its imprisoned colour. That he was a boy with exceptional powers of observation is shown by his diary of “A Tour in Germany," on which he was taken at the age of twelve. Written in copperplate calligraphy, it is packed with records of things seen of a character that would have had no interest for the ordinary boy. The Diary is a manuscript book of eighty pages, and includes two pencil drawings, a "View of Ostend" and “Church near Ostend." Each shows extreme care in the drawing of the architecture, and the way he has placed the towers and buildings of Ostend on the horizon, with a vast, eloquent empty space in the foreground, shows how unerring, even at the age of twelve, was his instinct for selection and form. Here is the naive beginning of the Diary:
" I took my seat on the stem of the vessel (all the passengers then except myself being sick), contemplating the beautiful waves as they rolled after each other, and the paddles dashing through the waves and throwing the refreshing spray upon the deck. However, feeling a little sick, I was obliged to leave my little corner, but afterwards, finding myself better, I soon returned. The coast of Flanders now appeared, looking like a low bank stretching along for a great way, and the little village spires peeped here and there along the coast."
In Ghent he refers to a picture by Rubens with this curious comment, "The coloring was so beautiful as to resemble real life," but usually the boy is content to mention the names of great painters with reverence, but without personal enthusiasm. He is more interested in nature than in art "the mountain ash with its little red berries," "a lake dotted with innumerable small wooded islands." At the end of the Diary he utters the cry of the true wanderer. He shrinks from returning to school, and "a thousand times wished that he might be in one of the canal boats gliding smoothly and swiftly along to Antwerp."
In later years his aged sister would often talk of that tour, recalling her fright at a terrific thunderstorm, and the calmness of her small brother, who was intent only on watching the effects.
In 1840 he proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated with honors in the Mathematical Tripos. Surely no other artist has ever taken honors in mathematics! Yet it is obvious, on reflection, how helpful knowledge of mathematics may be to an artist. Colour is a gift. No one can be taught colour. Taste is a gift o but the scientific sides of art are simplified and' strengthened by a knowledge of mathematics. There is little record of Brabazon's Cambridge life and no information that he devoted even his leisure time to sketching, but his future career must have been often in his thoughts, and the course of it was probably quite arranged in his own mind during his undergraduate days.
The decision had to be made after leaving Cambridge: he made it, and he would not swerve. It was the wish of the family that he should go to the bar, and he was promised a generous allowance if he would enter at one of the Inns of Court But, to paraphrase his own words, when he looked up the dingy and unpicturesque staircases which adorn our celebrated seats of legal learning, the sight to his artistic and aesthetic tastes was too dreadful, and the grim and unromantic facts that he would have to encounter daily too terrible tor contemplation. He appealed to his father, he announced firmly that the only career possible to him was that of an artist, that Rome called him (it was Rome in those days, not Pans), and his father relented, but told his son, after the manner of fathers, that if he was determined to proceed as an art student to Rome, his allowance would be considerably curtailed. To an enthusiastic youth smitten with the art fever mere money matters are negligible. So to Rome he went, and there he lived and worked and learnt for three years.
I do not think that any of his friends or fellow students in Rome had the slightest prevision of his future career, of his latent genius, and his extraordinary capabilities for development. He was not a prodigy. Indeed, he showed more aptitude for music than for art; at the age of ten he could play the piano with facility. The " Drawing made at the Academy, Rome, about 1847," is a careful copy, such as any earnest youth might produce, and his other productions of this period are no more than the work of an industrious and competent student. The "View of Ostend," done some years before, shows more personality and promise.
He was no solitary. Then, as always, he was gregarious, with a great gift for friendship. Besides many Sussex friends who were living in Italy at that time, he had the advantage of the acquaintance of Joseph Severn, Consul at Rome, and father of his life-long friend, Arthur Severn. Another of his art friends was Charles Perkins, afterwards connected with the Boston Museum, U.S.A., with whom he shared rooms.
The years in Rome were happy and fruitful, and the student on the "curtailed income" of a younger son looked forward to a career in which, if he would not actually have to depend upon his brush for a livelihood, he would probably find it necessary to augment his income by selling his pictures. Suddenly the prospect entirely changed. He had been studying in Rome three years when, by the death of his elder brother, William, at Malta, he inherited the Brabazon estates, became an independent man, his own master, and able to pursue his art where and how he pleased. For nearly fifty years he pursued it as an enthusiastic amateur, producing ecstatically just when the spirit moved him, making gifts of his drawings to a few favored friends, never thinking of selling them, hating the mere idea of exhibiting, producing lyrics in paint because he loved doing it better than anything else in the world. But he had a proper appreciation of his work. A lady to whom he had given a watercolour having treated it as he thought inconsiderately, he promptly relieved her of the charge. When, in 1892, persuaded much against his wish to have an exhibition, he entered the ranks of the professionals; it made not the slightest difference to him. He "awoke to find himself famous." Everybody seems to have used the well-worn phrase. A letter from Mr. Leonard Berwick, who was in Berlin at the time, begins: "Dear Brabs, - Long ere this reaches you - like Byron - you will have awoken to find yourself famous." That strange condition of being gratified Brabazon exceedingly, but he remained always the happy, enthusiastic amateur, working entirely for his own pleasure.
Hercules Brabazon Brabazon - His Life and Art; C. Lewis Hind (1912)