Foreword to Exhibition Catalog, 1999

Portraiture has always been a cornerstone of British Art.  Since the days of Holbein and Van Dyck,   prominent figures in society,  the wealthy, the noble and the fashion-conscious, have always wanted to be recorded for posterity by well-known artists of the time, such as Lely, Kneller, Gainsborough, Raeburn, Romney, Lawrence and Sargent.  The tradition has survived until the present day largely due to the efforts of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.  Today George Bruce is well-known as a regular exhibitor at the Society’s annual exhibitions, but while his reputation lies with his formal portraiture, he has also always executed less finished paintings and studies as well.

The present exhibition is exclusively of George’s privately inspired work, and while it draws its vitality and richness from his formal background, reflecting the discipline and professionalism which he has always imposed upon himself, it is of quite a different ilk.

Convincing George to exhibit still lifes has been a considerable struggle as for the most part they have been executed for his own pleasure and amusement. Their personal nature is reflected in a brilliant freshness and spontaneity. They are indeed little gems. Many are what the French would call “exercices de style!” – a spontaneous expression of his desire to capture the play of light over a piece of silver or express the depth of colour in a wonderful piece of material.

These paintings also represent an exercise in connoisseurship. It is well-known that the famous portrait painters from Lely in the 17th Century to Richardson in the 18th Century and Reynolds and Lawrence the 19th Century, were also great collectors of Old Master drawings. Through studying the work of their predecessors, they sought to share their secrets, that would in turn allow them to explore and express in greater depth the psychological and moral quality of their sitters. Having said that, the success of a portrait has also been more than a record of an individual’s character; part of its success is achieved not just by its psychological insight but through the sheer virtuosity exercised in the depiction of a shirt, a waistcoat or a lock of hair.

George’s studies reflect an important aspect of his technical training. In order to achieve the composed formal portrait, an artist needs to get the details right. Thus, there is no contradiction in George Bruce’s oeuvre between his desire to paint small-scale pictures and his achievement as a portrait painter. He has often complained about the disappearance of a certain type of knowledge, which enabled the great artists of the past to create subtle effects with apparent ease. His mentor, Brian Thomas, the stained glass artist, taught him some of those secrets, far too few in the artist’s modest opinion. It is a great privilege that at last we have now been allowed to see this body of work. Let us hope that many artists and enthusiasts will visit this exhibition and benefit from and enjoy George’s very individual genius.

François Borne, Paris 1999
[Exhibition 2002]

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