Harold M. Brett (1880 - 1955)

A Destroyer on a night time naval encounter, circa 1915

SKU: 5972
oil on panel,  
27 3/4  x 19 3/4 in. (70.4 x 50.1 cm)

Height – 70.4cm x Width – 50.1cm


Private Collection
Scenes of the people and incidents of the New England coast were amongst Harold Brett’s favourite subjects. As early as 1907, while studying under Howard Pyle in Wilmington, Delaware, he and Henry Peck travelled together to make studies of the United States Coast Guard for his paintings. These were reproduced in Life Savers on Old Malabar by William Inglis, in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, January 1908.

Brett moved to Chatham, Massachusetts in 1915. It is here that he illustrated several books by Joseph C. Lincoln, whose stories were set in a fictionalized Massachusetts peninsula, as well as undertaking a portrait series of Cape Cod sea captains. He is believed to have painted ‘A Detroyer on a Night-time Naval Encounter’ at this time, perhaps inspired by the activities of the newly opened Chatham Naval Air Station.

Whilst there is no evidence that Brett spent time in Europe during World War I, he illustrated a number of scenes of soldiers in action, including a view of American infantrymen in a  trench, in the collection of Delaware Art Museum. There are also posters ‚Äì after his paintings ‚Äì showing various maritime scenes from WW1 in the Albany Institute of History & Art.

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Harold M. Brett
Harold M.
1880 - 1955
Harold Mathews Brett was an American Field Painter, Illustrator trained at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston best known for his New England scenes and portraits. His illustratio s were featured in Harper’s Weekly, Bazar, Collier’s Weekly, and The Saturday Evening Post. Brett’s paintings hang in the Brandywine River Museum, Cape Cod Museum of Fine Art, and the Chatham Historical Society, among others.
Brett was born December 3, 1880 in Middleboro, Massachusetts and spent his formative years in Brookline, Massachusetts. Brett attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston where under the direction of Philip Hale and Frank Benson he honed his artistic skills. Seeking further artistic education Brett relocated to New York in order to study at the Art Students League. Artists that contributed to his development include: Walter Appleton Clark, H. Siddons Mowbray, and Kenyon Cox.
In 1906 Brett went to Wilmington, Delaware, to continue his studies with well-known illustrator Howard Pyle. Brett’s career as an illustrator and painter took off soon after his studies with Howard Pyle. His first professional achievement was as an illustrator in Harper’s Weekly. An example of Brett’s keen sense of narrative and human form is seen in his oil painting The Checkers Game which appeared on the cover of the June 2, 1906 issue of “Harper’s Weekly.”: In a provision shop three men are engaged in a game of checkers. A confident businessman looks on as his checkers opponent, a sea Captain, decides the next move. The aged yet spry shop keep presides over the game as an old man watches the scene.
Brett settled in Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, where he continued to illustrate for magazines and books and was a member of the Fenway School of Illustration in Boston, Massachusetts. Examples of his print success include reproduced oils and original drawings for the author Joseph C. Lincoln used to illustrate several publications. Brett’s painting for the jacket cover to Rafael Sabatini novel Hounds Of God exemplifies his ability to capture on canvas human emotion and plot.
Brett’s painting and illustrations encompassed the same arena as Norman Rockwell, to which he can be compared. Brett sought to capture on canvas a moment suspended in time, often dealing with subject matter quintessential to American life. Like Rockwell, Brett’s paintings include plot, emotion, and a nostalgia for times past.
Brett’s career continued to evolve as his talent for portrait painting developed. Brett maintained two studios, one in New York City, and the other in Chatham, MA. His portrait style followed that of his genre painting and captured the best of an individual as preserved in a moment in time. He painted his females gentile and refined while his portraits of men are displayed as confident, strong, and calm.