Arthur Briscoe – Marine Artist251 views | January 29th, 2021
Golden Vanity was built in 1908 for renowned marine artist Arthur Briscoe as a floating art studio. But who was Arthur Briscoe ?
The Early Years
Authur Briscoe was born on 25th February 1873, eldest child of five, to John and Eliza Briscoe in Birkenhead. These Mersey waterways would have been visited by great ocean going Liners, Steamships, Sailing Ships, Schooners and Brigs – possibly this is where his maritime interest began? His father, a prominent local cotton broker, travelled with Arthur to America and Japan before he turned 18 and began his studies at the Slade Art School in London and then at the Academy Julian in Paris.
It was in the late 1890s he moved to Maldon and Heybridge Basin which allowed him to combine his two passions in life – painting and sailing. This is when he began to find his voice as an artist.
He designed and built a flat-bottomed dinghy and helped found the Blackwater Sailing Club. He then bought ‘Doris’ a three-ton cutter which he sailed up and down the Essex coast, upgrading in 1902 to ‘Vera’ an eight-ton cutter. It was around this time, aged 28 he got married to Mabel Shawyer. They spent most of the year aboard ‘Vera’ exploring the English Channel, down to Falmouth, over to France, along the Belgium coast and the Dutch Waterways. Throughout this time Briscoe was sketching and painting in watercolour.
A Marine Artist is born
In 1906 his first one-man show ‘Round the North Sea and Zuyder Zee’ was held in Bond Street, London. This established his reputation as a marine artist and lead to many further exhibitions.
In 1908 under the nom de plume, ‘Clove Hitch’ , he published ‘A handbook of sailing’. In the same year, he commissioned ‘Golden Vanity’. Built in 1908 by Sanders and Co. The design was known as the Mumble Bee class of Brixham sailing trawler, but Golden Vanity was essentially a floating studio for Briscoe, allowing him to shadow the fishing fleets, creating an artistic record of the last working days of sail.
Until the outbreak of World War One, Briscoe spent his summers sailing, sketching and painting. and the winters developing his works. Spring would be spent readying Golden Vanity for the season ahead. In 1913 Mabel became ill with tuberculosis and was unable to sail. It seems that Briscoe found a new first mate in Alice Baker, whom he engaged as a model and sailing partner on Golden Vanity. Around this time he was contributing regular articles and illustrations to Yachting Monthly.
With the onset of WW1, Briscoe became a Lieutenant in RNVR, stationed at Scapa Flow, Leith and Portsmouth. He continued his friendship throughout with Alice, documented by several paintings. In 1926 Mabel and Arthur divorced freeing him up to marry Alice.
Etchings on Golden Vanity
Up until this point, Briscoe’s work was predominately watercolour and oil painting. It was his friendship with Scottish artist, James McBey that encouraged and developed his interest in etching. Briscoe became a prolific and respected etcher. Particularly his sketches made of working men at sea, which caught a real sense of movement and drama. Briscoe’s friend, Erskine Childers who wrote a famous yachting spy novel “ Riddle of the Sands” would sail with Arthur on Golden Vanity.
Today Authur Briscoe is remembered as a renowned etcher of marine subjects and a painter in oil and watercolour. Briscoe’s style was unmistakable and he is regarded as one of the greatest etchers of the twentieth century. Many artists were technically accurate, but his combination of the lived experience of sailing and mastery of the etching needle catches an intimate portrayal of working at sea. His ability to capture movement and atmosphere so simply and poetically is what gained him a reputation as an outstanding printmaker. And clearly the significant amount of time he spent on Golden Vanity informed his practice.
Golden Vanity is now part of the UK national historic ships register of core vessels and has sailed far and wide – even trans-Atlantic crossings. Golden Vanity joined the First Class Sailing fleet in 2020 and is currently being renovated.
Briscoe produced a total of 189 etchings dealing with the sea and sailing ships which are highly collectable and sought after. He exhibited extensively including the Royal Academy, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour, New English Art Club, Fine Art Society, Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Elected A.R.E, 1930; R.E, 1933 and R.I. 1935. Briscoe was instrumental in the establishment of the Royal Society of Marine Artists in 1939.
For all the information on Briscoe’s Boat Golden Vanity click here
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Posted by: First Class Sailing