Robert Brennan (1925 - 2018) was a self-taught artist who moved to St Ives in the early 1950’s. He was a member of the Penwith Society early on, when Herbert Read was President of the group. He showed work alongside Terry Frost, Karl Weschke, Barbara Hepworth and Roger Hilton amongst others, in the exhibition gallery that was established in St. Ives. At this time, the Penwith Society seasonal exhibitions became a national showplace for contemporary painting, sculpture and the crafts.
A recent exhibition, ‘Creative Tensions’, at the Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance, explored the early days of the Society, and the disagreements which erupted in the forging of new artistic pathways. As the following story about one of the Brennan monotypes that we have available shows, Brennan was no exception!
This monotype by Robert Brennan (1925 – 2018) from 1961 depicts Tregerthen cottages near Zennor in Cornwall. Brennan was a member of the Penwith Society, but “fell foul of those buggers on several occasions” and resigned due to “the degree of elitism which was displayed by the great and the good,” (i.e. Nicholson, Hepworth, Leach, Wells, Barns-Graham, Heron, etc.). He also had a long-term feud with Peter Lanyon, who “was convinced that only Cornishmen could and should be encouraged to work in Cornwall”. So Brennan ploughed his own furrow, and continued to make prints and drawings in his own style until his death. Brennan knew the German-born artist Karl Weschke and his then partner Janet Green, who lived at Tregerthen in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The cottage they occupied had previously been home to D.H Lawrence and his German wife Frieda, who lived there in 1916 and 1917.
Shortly after arriving, Lawrence writes (26 April 1916): “It is very lovely down here, the slopes of desert dead grass and heather sheering down to a sea that is so big and blue.” Having undergone examination and been exempted from military service, he writes (9 July 1916) “It was the underlying sense of disaster that overwhelmed me.” “This is the most terrible madness.” “I have finished my novel, and am going to try to type it. It will be a labour – but we have got no money.” So it is that wars and beauty leave their traces.
This captures a little of the artistic history of the place, and was written by Lucas Weschke, the youngest son of Karl Weschke. When we looked at this print together he pointed across the lane, to where the water tap for the cottages was, saying that this was where he played as a boy. This adds a fourth artist to the story of this picture (you can see prints by Lucas on his website.
The cottage is available to buy from this page two more prints by Robert Brennan will be available soon.