Frederick Lee Bridell (British 1831-1863)
The Temple of Saturn, the Forum and the Colosseum, Rome
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 1862 (lower right)
87.5 x 123.5cm (34¼ x 48½ in.)
Arthur Tooth and Sons, London
Berwick House, Shropshire
Frederick Lee Bridell (British 1831-1863)
Like his mentor Richard Parkes Bonnington, a generation before him, Frederick Lee Bridell died young, in his case at the age of thirty-two. Had he lived he may well have enjoyed the success of the greatest British landscape painters of the 19th Century such as Edward Lear and David Roberts, whose monumental Italian pictures can be favourably compared to the two works in our sale.
From the early 18th Century, the lure of Italy and the ruins of Classical Antiquity has proved irresistible to artists and travellers. The Grand Tour became a rite of passage, but the Napoleonic Wars disrupted travel and the Continent was effectively cut off from Britain for many years. With the end of hostilities in 1815 travellers returned and Rome became the epicentre for a new generation, drawn to the ruins of an ancient world and a favourable climate. Artists moved away from mere topographical representation towards a Romantic vision. The landscape is seen as a link with the classical past but there is an increasing emphasis on the subjective experience of the artist. With the inclusion of shepherds, herdsman and townspeople going about their everyday work they vividly capture the atmosphere of life in the eternal city.
Bridell was born in Southampton in 1830 and was the son of John Bridle a carpenter. From the age of nine he was avidly drawing and writing verse and his early promise was spotted by Edwin Holder a picture restorer, to whom he was apprenticed. By eighteen he was painting portraits and signing his works Frederick Lee Bridell and in 1851 exhibited his first picture at The Royal Academy. With Holder's support he spent three years on the Continent, copying pictures in the Louvre, then in Munich and the Tyrol where he was inspired by the Alpine landscape. On returning to England, he worked up his studies into large scale studio pictures which he exhibited at the Royal Academy, the British Institution and the Liverpool Academy and attracted the attention of many wealthy collectors in his hometown. James Wolff, a shipping merchant became his most notable patron and built a Bridell gallery, to house twelve of his large-scale landscapes, at his home at Bevois Mount, in the outskirts of the city.
In 1858, buoyed by his commercial success, Bridell travelled to Italy, with a copy of Byron's Childe Harold for inspiration, he wrote back to his patron James Wolff 'I am now settled, as far a studio is concerned, most capitally on the Pincian Hill overlooking Rome - the best lighted, most healthy and most agreeable quarter possibly to be selected.' He met a young artist, Eliza Fox, one of a large community of British artists and writers who had travelled to the city. They married soon afterwards, and the writer Elizabeth Barrett Brown recorded in a letter `We have a wedding here and Robert (Barrett Browning) has "given away" the bride who is no other than Miss Fox. She came here this winter for the purposes of art & chose to begin my portrait, as I think I told you - and fell in with Mr Bridell a landscape-painter of much talent'.
The four years he spent in Italy from 1858 were the most successful and productive of his short career. He painted the present pictures at this time and for his patron James Wolff he produced The Coliseum at Rome by Moonlight which is now in Southampton City Art Gallery. He also travelled to the Italian lakes where is painted grand landscapes such as The Woods of Sweet Chestnut above Varenna, Lake Como(Tate Britain). The lake air was seen as beneficial to his health, but he returned to England in 1863 and succumbed to the tuberculosis that he had suffered from for several years.
In his obituary in The Art Journal in 1864, the poet Sir Theodore Martin lamented 'Had he lived, he must have earned a European reputation; and numerous and fine as are the works he has left, his early death is, in the interests of Art, deeply to be deplored'. His wife held a studio sale of his pictures at Christie's the following year and his patron Wolff, who had run into financial difficulties, sold this `Bridell Gallery' at Christie's the previous year.