This is a work from Brett's early career, painted in the late autumn of 1855 prior to his momentous first visit the following year to the Alps, on which occasion he met John William Inchbold and under whose influence he adopted a practice of painstaking Pre-Raphaelite landscape observation which led to his two early masterpieces, The Glacier of Rosenlaui (Tate) and Val d'Aosta (the Lord Lloyd Webber collection). It predates the artist's earliest exhibits at the Royal Academy – the three portraits which he showed in the summer exhibition of 1856.
Whilst Brett is not usually thought of as a portraitist, he painted a series of direct, sympathetic likenesses at this early period of his career. No biographical information is forthcoming about the present adolescent sitter, nor is any clue given as to her relationship with the artist. A certain candour of observation of a young woman who faces the portraitist with self-possession and absence of pretence, might suggest that it was of someone who the artist knew quite well – perhaps a cousin or other relation (although the family name Berry is not recognised by the artist's descendant and principal authority on his work, Mr Charles Brett). It is hard to imagine John Brett receiving commissions for portraits at this time, when he was by no means established professionally (and it may also be surmised that at least two of the three portraits that he exhibited in 1856 were likewise made at the artist's behest, as one represented his brother Arthur and the other was of Emily Patmore (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), the wife of Coventry Patmore to whose London house Brett was a frequent visitor in the years when he was still a student at the Royal Academy Schools).
Matilda Berry is shown with her dark and glossy hair centrally parted and hanging in ringlets. She wears an elegant day-dress of blue silk, with lace trim at the neck and sleeves. Beside her is shown a grand piano, upon which is placed a vase.
We are grateful to Lynn Roberts and Charles Brett for their assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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