LONDON.- Born in Birmingham in 1890, Brockhurst showed promising signs of his artistic talent while very young: the then headmaster of the Birmingham School of Art even announced he had discovered "a young Botticelli. It was there that he encountered the work of the Pre-Raphaelite painters which, alongside his interest in the Italian Renaissance masters, would provide an ample source of inspiration for the formation of his style.
Brockhurst was one of the most successful portrait painters in London during his lifetime, but he was also an accomplished draughtsman and etcher. At a time when the market for contemporary etching was growing, he quickly mastered the technique and published his first prints in 1920 (Mélisande, The Mirror, Henry Rushbury, and Yolande, among others from this early period, are included in this exhibition). Translating his work from oil to ink, he produced exceptionally detailed portraits and figure studies, in opposition to the trend for landscapes and cityscapes in etchings at the time.
Surprisingly, his traditional approach to portraiture blossomed in an era when there was growing interest in the abstract avant-garde movement across Europe and the US. And yet, his uncompromisingly truthful and enticing portraits were very much a product of their time: from the careful depiction of womens fashion, make-up, and hairstyles (his subjects include the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich and Merle Oberon) to the powerful posture and expensive suits typical of his male American sitters such as J. Paul Getty and Jacob Burns.
If Brockhurst had a long list of cosmopolitan sitters for his paintings, the primary models for his etchings were his first and second wives. His first wife, Anaïs Mélisande Folin, patiently posed for her husband in dozens of sittings, costumes, and poses. Out of 20 portrayals included in the exhibition, only one is titled with her name. In her meticulously reproduced attire and accessories, Anaïs embodies numerous female archetypes and literary figures (Corinne, Aglaia, Elizabeth, Almina, Nadia).
Brockhursts second wife was Kathleen Woodward, a young model at The Royal Academy whom he renamed Dorette. Dorette became a fixture of his paintings and prints, of which Adolescence (1932) is widely considered his masterpiece. The largest etching in the exhibition, it presents young Dorette looking at her own nude reflection in the mirror. This charged depiction of teenage anxieties is as much a psychological portrait as a physical one. It is also a work of extreme technical mastery, where every object, surface, light and shade is beautifully reproduced.