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Object of the Month: December 2014

Sir John Arnesby Brown RA, ‘The Raincloud’, 1915

Published 8 December 2014

Working out of doors, Sir John Arnesby Brown RA used dynamic brushstrokes and a palette knife to capture bovine energy and the drama of dark, thundery clouds.

  • When The Raincloud was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1915 it was described by critics as “vigorous” and “most convincing in its power”. Brown’s broad handling of paint in a technique which combines large, flat brushstrokes with the use of a palette knife is striking and is typical of his style at this date. The drama of the dark, thundery clouds is heightened by the foreground sunlight and the movement of the cattle away from the danger of the imminent storm.

    Although Brown worked out of doors, his paintings were largely composed in the studio, as he believed that “the artist must re-arrange, must eliminate and add and must design to suit his ideas”. He was more interested in composing an image that conjured up the atmospheric qualities of nature rather than a pictorial translation of what he had seen. Trees interested him merely as “cliffy masses rather than individual organisms” and cattle “as parts of the whole, so that his profound knowledge of their anatomy is concealed rather than exposed”.

    By 1915, Brown’s style had developed along simpler lines. This economy of purpose is apparent in The Raincloud, where strong vertical brushstrokes in the foreground represent long grass but are also suggestive of the movement of the cows towards the spectator.

  • Sir John Arnesby Brown RA, The Raincloud

    Sir John Arnesby Brown RA, The Raincloud, 1915.

    Oil on canvas. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

  • Arnesby Brown received all his art training in England, beginning with the art school in his home town of Nottingham, and then from 1889 to 1892, he gained greater technical expertise at Hubert Herkomer’s art school in Bushey, Surrey. Brown often painted in the open air and his style was influenced by the Barbizon School and Impressionism. He exhibited at the Royal Academy to wide acclaim from 1890. By 1900, his focus on the imaginative expression of atmosphere above pure realism had established him as a representative of a new romantic movement. He lived variously in St. Ives, Chelsea and Norfolk. He was knighted in 1938. Brown ceased painting in 1942 when he became blind.

    See more works by Sir John Arnesby Brown RA in our Collection.