WILDE-KAISER MOUNTAINS, SEEN FROM AUDORF, IN THE TYROL
Signed & dated k.r. F R Bridell 1856
Watercolour with bodycolour
25 x 34.5cm
Royal Academy, London, 1856, no.969
Frederick Bridell was born in Southampton into a working class household in the heart of the city's industrial centre. He left school early on account of the family's financial situation, working first as a pageboy, before becoming a house painter. According to a contemporary, Bridell had been painting and composing verse from just 9 years old, in spite of his circumstances. A portrait of the very same contemporary (Henry Rose), painted when Bridell was 15, attracted the attention of a local art restorer, Edwin Holder, who employed him on a five year contract to copy Old Masters. By the time he was 18, Bridell had become a talented portraitist and, three years later, he sent his first work to the Royal Academy to be exhibited. With these exhibitions his reputation was swiftly established, and he was regarded as something of a rising star in only a few short years.
Between 1853 and 1855, Bridell travelled extensively in Europe: first to France, where he copied works in the Louvre; then to Germany, settling in Munich for some time and studying the Dutch Golden Age landscapists; and finally to Austria, where he was particularly taken with the mountainous views of the Tyrol (as the present work demonstrates). On returning to England he worked up sketches from his continental travels and painted a number of portraits of wealthy Southampton inhabitants. By 1858, he was living at Highfield Lodge and painting for a new patron James Woolff, a local shipping magnate.
In the autumn of 1858 Bridell travelled to Rome, where he met and married fellow artist, Eliza Fox. The poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning entertained the couple for their wedding meal at Bocca di Leone and a portrait in chalks by Eliza of Elizabeth Browning can be dated to the same year. On this trip he completed some of his finest paintings, inspired by the Roman ruins, and many decorative views of the Italian Lakes. He was to go back and forth between Italy and London, sketching views that he could then work up on a grand scale for sale to enthusiastic British clients.
Bridell unfortunately died whilst still a ‘rising star’ of the British art world: in his obituary in The Art Journal in 1864, the poet Sir Theodore Martin lamented “Had he lived, he must have earned a European reputation; and numerous and fine as are the works he has left, his early death is, in the interests of Art, deeply to be deplored”.