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Harold Brett

 (1880 - 1955)
Harold Matthews Brett was active/lived in Massachusetts, New York.  Harold Brett is known for portrait and landscape painter, illustrator.

Harold Brett

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Harold Brett
Harold Matthews Brett is known for his illustrations and paintings of nostalgic New England scenes.  He grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston under Philip Hale and Frank Benson.   Later, he moved to New York to study at the Art Students League with Walter Appleton Clark, H. Siddons Mowbray, and Kenyon Cox.

By then a well-trained artist, Brett went to Wilmington, Delaware, in 1906, to study further under the famous illustrator Howard Pyle.  He was soon able to make his professional debut in Harpers Weekly, and his work began to appear in most of the national magazines.  Eventually, Brett moved to Chatham on Cape Cod, and for several years was associated with the Fenway School of Illustration in Boston.  Brett particularly liked to do New England subjects with an historical setting; he also did a series of portraits of Cape Cod sea captains.  Eventually, he specialized in portraiture, maintaining studios in New York City and Chatham.

It might be said that Harold Brett occupied a similar position in art history as Norman Rockwell.  Brett's paintings, drawings, and illustrations, which can be seen on exhibit at the Cape Museum of Fine Arts, evoke a similar nostalgic feeling for a different, simpler time.

A resident of Chatham, Brett was primarily an illustrator, working for magazines such as Colliers, Ladies Home Journal, and Country Gentleman.  He also illustrated books: Lucretia Hales The Peterkin Papers and several by the Cape author Joseph C. Lincoln.

Brett also devoted time to portraits, which were simple, straightforward works.  His subjects were undoubtedly painted the way they would like the world to see them: The men were composed and serious, the women genteel.

Brett's paintings of local Cape scenes have had the greatest appeal.  Viewers are attracted by the quaintness of the works.  Done in the 1930s and 1940s, they show none of the influences of modernism.  Although Brett studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, with Frank Benson, he seemingly was not influenced by Benson's style of Impressionism.

Wychmere Harbor is a quiet water view, as is HarwichportCongregational Church, Chatham evokes a Currier and Ives image of a snow-covered scene, complete with horse-drawn sleigh.  Chatham Fish Shack, completed in 1935, has a view through the shadows of a fish shack into an open door that frames a bright spot, where a man and his boat are highlighted in the glare of the sun.  The painting is well composed and carefully structured and goes beyond just the nostalgic in its aesthetic qualities.  The Cranberry Pickers, done for Lincoln's Cape Cod Yesterdays, nicely captures the era of bonneted women harvesting the berries.  The Graveyard, Truro projects a somber mood with the dark gravestones ominous against a pale sunset.  Lady on Skis, was an illustration for Colliers, and shows Brett's ability to define an attitude and expression.  The woman in the drawing is shown with a startled look as she tries to maintain her balance during a precarious slide down a hill.

Brett's art is seen best in the context of his work as an illustrator.  He depicted a time and place that can be recalled with affection.  It is easy to imagine oneself lingering in front of one of his Cape scenes, trying to recapture the charm of that era.

Sources include:
The Illustrator In America, 1880-1980, A Century of Illustration
, by Walt and Roger Reed
Cape Code Times, "Brett Illustrates Charm of Cape Era Gone By", December 14, 2000)

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About  Harold Brett

Born:  1880 - Middleboro, Massachusetts
Died:   1955
Known for:  portrait and landscape painter, illustrator