Brangwyn had a price on his head

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by Jeannie Swales

There can’t be many artists who have upset world leaders so much that they’ve had a price put on their head.

Frank Brangwyn is one of the select few – his graphic and disturbing image of a British Tommy bayoneting a German soldier was used as a World War I propaganda poster by the National War Savings Committee with the slogan Put Strength in the Final Blow: Buy War Bonds, and caused such deep offence (in both countries) that Kaiser Wilhelm himself is said to have called for Brangwyn’s death.

Brangwyn (1867-1956) was a prolific artist and craftsman: painter, engraver, etcher, lithographer, watercolourist, designer of furniture, textiles, ceramics, stained glass, glassware and jewellery – indeed, he served an apprenticeship with the great Arts and Crafts master William Morris between 1882 and 1884. He was an 
Official War Artist in the First World War.

It’s estimated that in his lifetime, Brangwyn produced over 12,000 works of art of one type or another. You can see nearly 200 of them on the BBC Your Paintings website:

He was born in Bruges, Belgium, where the family was living after his Welsh father won a competition organised by the Belgian Guild of St Thomas and St Luke to design a parish church – they moved back to the UK in 1874. Brought up Roman Catholic, the young Guillaume François, known as Frank, wasn’t particularly committed to the church. As he grew older, however, he was drawn back, and started producing more religious work, often including a self-portrait as, it’s believed, a sort of penance for his earlier neglect of the faith.

He produced many versions of the Stations of the Cross: oils, lithographs, painted murals and, as in this work from the Scarborough Collections, woodcuts. Printed in black, grey and ochre, it depicts Christ carrying the cross – and although it was probably created in the early 30s, it looks as though Brangwyn still carried his own cross from what was then known as the Great War some 15 years earlier: take a look at that helmeted figure on the right.

The Brangwyn woodcut is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork owned by the Borough, and in the care of the charitable Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on or 01723 384510.