Hugh Boycott-Brown RSMA (1909-1990)

Boycott Brown is one of those solid, professional twentieth century British landscape and marine artists currently so underrated by the market. His immediate contemporary, and the painter to whom he is most commonly compared, is Edward Seago, whose work currently makes ten times the price. In fact, the comparison is drawn for far from stylistic reasons. Rather largely from their mutual membership of the East Anglian School of painters, that late twentieth century band of traditional plein air painters inspired by the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts and their love of working Spritsail barges.

Boycott Brown was not brought up in East Anglia but in Bushey, Hertfordshire, the home of an entirely different artistic tradition. In 1883 Hubert von Herkomer had opened his art school in Bushey. It largely catered for established painters and ran what were effectively postgraduate courses. Von Herkomer was a powerful character and the school’s reputation grew, such that by the time it closed in 1904 it had enjoyed worldwide fame. The void it left was filled by proliferation of smaller schools and studio teaching arrangements, notably that run by the animal painter Lucy Kemp-Welch. By the time Boycott Brown was looking for instruction the school of choice was run by Marguerite Frobisher. Frobisher was close to Kemp-Welch and ultimately became her companion and legatee.

His father, Allan Robert Brown, a watercolourist and art master at the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys, also gave the young Boycott Brown some instruction. In 1929 the school built a junior department and presumably through his father’s connection, was taken on to teach art there. While working he continued his artistic studies, in the evenings at Watford School of Art, and during the holidays he attended Heatherley's School of Art under Frederic Whiting RP RSW and Bernard Adams RP ROI. Whiting was an old school academic painter who had learnt at the feet of the great in fin de siècle Paris and Adams, although now largely forgotten, displayed the same technical discipline having studied at the Antwerp Academy.

Much is made of Boycott Brown’s connection with Sir John Arnesby Brown RA at this time. Most biographies refer to his ‘encouragement’ of the young artist and often go so far to talk of teaching him. Possibly they had crossed paths through Arnesby Brown’s Bushy connection, both he and his wife had studied at the von Herkomer school in the 1890s. It seems also, to be accepted that during the 1930s Boycott Brown first discovered, and fell in love with, the East Anglian landscape and coastline. According to (the best source for information for BB by far), he spent as much time as he could painting in East Anglia, and it was while there that he befriended Arnesby Brown and also William Henry David Birch (1895-1968) both of whom greatly influenced his work. Very early on he began to paint in the open air, capturing the sudden changes of light and colour. particularly cloud formationst; he kept detailed charts linking prevailing winds to cloud forms in order that he could use them to best advantage in his work.

During the Second War he served in Intelligence, serving in India, South Africa, Burma and Northern Ireland. Tantalisingly nothing further is discoverable online regarding the details of his war service.

In peacetime he returned to teaching and in 1947 purchased a cottage in Blakeney, Norfolk where he could paint in the school holidays. On his retirement in 1970 he moved permanently to Saxmundham in Suffolk.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he painted and exhibited prolifically. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Institute of Painters in Oil, the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour. He was an active member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists. A solo exhibition was held at the Belgrave Gallery in 1986 and Abbott & Holder mounted a memorial show in 1991.

His work is held in the collections of National Maritime Museum, Cornwall, the Government Art Collection, the St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington and of course, a large collection at the Bushey Museum & Art Gallery.

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