Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Brothers Prynne

Just when you think you know enough about Pre-Raphaelite art and all that palava, along comes another artist that makes you scratch your head and go 'Well, what can I find out about you?'  This happened to me this week with Edward Arthur Fellowes Prynne.

O Ye Whales And All That Move On The Waters Bless Ye The Lord (1899)
This really is the tale of two Prynnes as Edward had a more famous brother called George, who I shall come to in a moment.  Starting with Edward, there seems very little known about him beyond some bare facts.  He was raised a High Anglican by his father who was the perpetual curate of St Peters, Frankfort, Plymouth.  Despite money being somewhat tight at home, Edward Prynne trained in London, Antwerp and Italy before returning and working in a style that sometimes is likened to Burne-Jones (as above).  He also worked with his brother George, who trained to be an architect and had a rather illustrious career.  If you search for George, you will find a fair amount on his ecclesiastic architectural career.  George suffered quite badly over the lack of cash.  He went off to the wild frontier of America and Canada (mmmm, Maple syrup) and worked in an architects office (okay, so possibly it wasn't that wild) before coming back and setting up his own practice.  He specialised in churches, and called upon his brother to provide some stunning religious images.

Stations of the Cross from St John Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford
Possibly the reason why Prynne isn't so well known is because a large part of his work is religious and that just is not fashionable anymore, especially when it's the less 'card-friendly' end of the belief-system.  No matter how prettily you dress it up, that is a chap being nailed to a cross.  Beautifully executed though, if you excuse the phrase.

Ladock Church, Cornwall
The Annunciation
Lovely stuff.  Although he gets compared to Burne-Jones a lot, I think of Evelyn de Morgan more due to the diverse colour palette.  Or maybe Marianne Stokes.  

He actually did over 60 portraits, some of which can be seen on the BBC 'Your Paintings' website.  There are a couple of corkers on there, I especially like the following...

Piers Alexander, Viscount Velletort (1886)
John F Winnicott
The first one I like because he's a handsome-looking Viscount and who doesn't love that?  Mr Winnicott has the most splendid robes I have ever seen.  Look at the texture on the fur!  I think he fashioned himself a fine mustache from the off-cuts.  Mr Winnicott has a special kind of clarity (which I'm sure he'd be delighted to hear) that makes him luminescent.  I appreciate that pale Tissot light in portraiture.

O All Ye Beasts and Cattle Bless Ye The Lord (1899)
One of the exhibitions I'm looking forward to later this year will be the exhibition about Angels and Fairies and the suchlike at the Russell-Cotes because I will get to see an impressive framed work which contains a series of Angels blessing different aspects of life and nature.  I particularly like the one with fish and whales (up at the top) but the others are very special too and the frame is insane.  I'll have to beg an image of the frame next week from Mr Walker and I'll post it up on the Stunner's Boudoir on Facebook as it has to be seen to be believed.

Oh Ye Mountains and Hills Bless Ye The Lord (1899)
So what do we know of Edward Prynne?  He was born in Plymouth in 1854 in Plymouth in Devon.  He had around seven siblings, including older brother George and a younger sister named Etheldreda.  What a splendid name. In 1888 he married Emma Joll and together they had six children.  In the 1911 Census he is listed as living in 1 Woodville Road, Ealing, had three servants and was working as an artist/painter.  When he died in 1921, he left Emma with £2582 3s which is around £90,000 in today's money.  His obituary in The Builder read as follows:

"[Prynne's death] removes from the religious art world an artist of very exceptional ability, 
and one whose absolute sincerity and devotion to the highest ideals of his art are 
stamped upon every kind of work of a religious character that he undertook"

Margaret Thom (1908)
His brother, George, who designed a string of beautiful church interiors, died a few years later, leaving his widow £5,000 and gaining, it seems, a higher profile in retrospect.  Despite losing two sons (Norman and Charles) in the Great War, he never lost his faith, as his obituary from his family's church stated:

"Through it all he was a Christian gentleman; modest, kindly, diligent and patient. His brother, Edward, eminent in another form of devotional art, supplied the beautiful windows of our Church, and before his death, completed the designs for the windows still unfilled. And St. Peter’s stands as a worthy monument to the two brothers."

It will be a pleasure to see the work on show in the Russell-Cotes and in the meantime I will be visiting some churches to enjoy the work of the brothers Prynne, filled with sincerity and devotion.  It is also very, very beautiful, which is worth your devotion alone.


  1. Dear Kirsty
    Thank you for this introduction to the Prynnes. I love the colours in the Annunciation (especially the angel's wings) and the colour of the robe in 'O All ye Beasts'. It is a shame that they are not better known, but as you say, the subject matter is not fashionable at present.
    They are beautiful images.
    Best wishes

  2. Etheldreda Sophia Prynne. What a lovely name. St. Etheldreda (or Æthelthryth) was an Anglo-Saxon saint who founded a double monastery at Ely. Though twice married she remained a virgin. The Prynne father you refer to was George Rundle Prynne. Before settling in Plymouth he was a curate at Clifton and his fellow curate later became Bishop of Ely.

  3. thanks for the great info - I am the great grandson of George, the Church architect...

  4. I am working on the tree of Edward's gr gr grandson living in New Zealand

  5. Thank you, Kirsty, for the information. Today, I started painting a version of 'the Annunciation' in egg-tempera on vellum, simply because I love Edward's colours, composition, beautiful figures, feathers, delicacy of touch, and his strong belief that shines through. Its just for me, to hang on the wall of my studio.
    So pleased to know a little about his life.

  6. Just found this thread! Replying to 'Mim' above... My husband is the gr grandson living in New Zealand. Can I be any help with info for the family tree? All very interesting...and great to see some more of his art!


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx