Bridell, Frederick Lee (DNB00)

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BRIDELL, FREDERICK LEE (1831–1863), landscape painter, was born at Southampton 7 Nov. 1831, and was the son of a builder in that town. It was intended that he should follow his father's business, but his impulse towards art was irresistible, and, without having received any regular instruction, he began to paint portraits at the age of fifteen. His performances attracted the attention of a picture cleaner and dealer visiting Southampton, who induced him to become his apprentice for seven years. During this period Bridell continued to study painting by his own unaided efforts, and produced a number of landscapes in the manner of the old masters, which became the property of his employer. In 1851, his first exhibited picture, 'A Bit in Berkshire,' was hung at the Royal Academy. In 1853 his engagement was renewed for seven years on condition of his being sent to the continent to study, his time being jealously accounted for, and his work remaining mortgaged to his master. After a short stay at Paris he established himself at Munich, where he contracted friendships with Piloty and other eminent painters. Here he perfected himself in the technique of his art, painted and exhibited several pictures highly commended by the German critics, and sent one, 'The Wild Emperor Mountains,' to the Royal Academy. In 1857 he returned to England, and unsuccessfully sought release from his imprudent contract. His first important work, 'Sunset on the Atlantic,' was exhibited at Liverpool in November of this year, and excited great admiration from the effective treatment of sea and sky. In 1858 he produced his 'Temple of Venus,' a gorgeous ideal composition painted in emulation of Turner; and in the autumn of this year went to Rome and painted his grand picture of the Coliseum, a most impressive work. The skeleton of the colossal edifice rears itself gaunt and black against the prevailing moonlight, and the barefooted Capuchins, who on the same spot inspired Gibbon with the thought of his 'Decline and Fall,' bearing torches at the head of a dim funeral procession, steal along in the deep shadows. It was intended to be the final member of a series of poetical landscapes illustrating the rise, greatness, and decline of imperial Rome, which, with this exception, were never painted. In February 1859 he married Eliza, daughter of William Johnson Fox, herself an artist of distinguished talent. His health failing almost immediately afterwards, he returned to England, freed himself from his bondage by a heavy payment, partly in money and partly in pictures, and in 1860 was again in Italy, where he made sketches for numerous landscapes subsequently executed, among which 'Under the Pine Trees at Castle Fusano, 'On the Hills above Varenna,' 'The Chestnut Woods at Varenna,' 'Etruscan Tombs at Civita Castellana,' and 'The Villa d'Este, Tivoli,' deserve especial mention. His principal patron at this time was Mr. James Wolff of Southampton, for whom the 'Temple of Venus' had been painted, and who acquired so many of his works as to form a 'Bridell Gallery,' subsequently dispersed by auction, when it produced nearly four thousand pounds. He also enjoyed the patronage of Sir Theodore Martin, Mr. John Platt, and other collectors of discrimination, and seemed to have every prospect of a brilliant career, when in August 1863 he succumbed to consumption, originated by early privations and aggravated by his devotion to art. Notwithstanding his youth and the obstacles created by impaired health and unfavourable circumstances, he had already proved himself 'a great master of landscape and an honour to the English school' (Wornum). His art had gone counter to the tendencies of his day. While his contemporaries, under pre-Raphaelite influences, inclined more and more to the minute and realistic, Bridell, inspired by Turner, was broad, ample, and imaginative. His work was bold and rapid, full of rich colour and refined feeling. He aimed especially at conveying the sentiment of a landscape. Every picture was inspired by some leading idea, which made itself felt in the minutest detail. Sunrise and sunset, mist and moonshine, combinations of light and shade in general, were his favourite effects. 'In his painting of skies and clouds in particular,' says Sir Theodore Martin, 'Mr. Bridell seems to us to occupy a place among British artists only second to Turner.' As a man he was a type of the artistic temperament, bright and genial, impulsive and affectionate, quick of apprehension, and fertile in ideas, and, when not depressed by sickness or excessive toil, full of energy and enthusiasm. He had wonderfully overcome the disadvantages of his early education, and his notes of travel and art, though perfectly simple and nowise intended for publicity, show that he could write as well as paint.

[Wornum's Epochs of Painting, pp. 544, 545; Bryan's Dictionary of Painters; Sir Theodore Martin in Art Journal for January, 1864; private information.]

R. G.