“Dartmoor is a favourite subject with several present-day artists, who for the most part exhibit a good knowledge of the region. No-one who is not a stranger to it can look upon the pictures of Mr. Charles E. Brittan without being conscious that they breathe its spirit. They are distinguished by a charm of colour, while his effects of light and shade on cloud are wonderful”, William Crossing, 1966 p.123.
Charles Edward Brittan Junior was born in 1870, his father, Charles E. Brittan was an artist particularly noted for his pictures of animals. Naturally having such a father, Charles junior was taught his skills at an early age where he was known to also have specialised in animal pictures. As the years progress he moved on to portray the various landscapes of Dartmoor painting in both oils and watercolours although it was his watercolours that he is best known for. Charles Brittan also painted in other landscapes such as Cornwall, Exmoor and Scotland, some of his Scottish works were even purchased by Queen Mary.
Over his career, Charles Brittan developed a particular style of portraying the Dartmoor landscape. Initially his foregrounds always included a trackway of some descript but then changed to show rocks and boulders all of which sport some kind of moss or lichen. It is seldom that human figures are ever shown but in various studies cattle, sheep and ponies are depicted. Brian le Messurier, 2002, pp 52 – 3, considers that as Brittan matured he style changed from one of melodrama to that of impressionistic.
His works were always signed, “Charles E. Brittan”, as opposed to his father’s signatures of C. E. Brittan or simply CEB.
Throughout his career Brittan held several major exhibitions, in 1913 he displayed his works under the title of Arran and the Western Isles in the Bond Street gallery of Arthur Ackerman and Son. In May 1914 he again exhibited in Ackerman’s gallery this time displaying his Dartmoor and Exmoor works as well, it was here, as the Times newspaper reported, that the Queen and Princess Mary viewed his works. The Royals must have had a liking for Brittan’s work because they revisited the gallery in 1921 and 1923. In 1933 the Graves Gallery in Sloane Square was exhibiting a work of Brittan’s which depicted the Hecklake on Dartmoor and this particular picture was rated in the top ten of 104 painting in the exhibition.
Charles E. Brittan died on Sunday the 18th of December 1949 and the Times newspaper ran the following obituary;
“Mr, Charles E. Brittan, the well-known Devon artist from whom Queen Mary and the Duke of Windsor purchased pictures of Dartmoor scenery, died at Tavistock on Sunday aged 79. Mr Brittan who was self-taught, exhibited in the Royal Gallery, and had painted over 3,000 pictures. In recent years he had painted Perthshire landscapes in addition to those of his beloved Devon. He leaves a widow, son and daughter“.
A much less formal obituary appeared in the Western Morning News and the following extract shows how much he was admired in his native Devon:
“Brittan was a painter in a class of himself. His works showed a knowledge of Dartmoor flowers and ferns, granite and atmosphere that could be attained by years of intimate study of the moor, his delineation of which has never been excelled… His were not the overdone purple hues, but the delicate, subdued and softer tints that held one’s admiration by their charm beauty and fidelity. He has made Dartmoor live, and Devon has lost a great artist“, Le Messurier, p. 53.
With such a prolific artist there is very little chance of seeing all of his Dartmoor works, especially as some of them are probably hanging somewhere in Buckingham Palace, but there are a few in circulation of which this exceptional watercolour is one.