Brangwyn has never fitted comfortably into accounts of 20th-century British art. As early as 1914 he formed part of Wyndham Lewis’ infamous list in Blast and was pilloried as an archetypal establishment figure; and yet just two years earlier he had been singled out by Kandinsky as one of the first 20th-century artists to use colour in a modern manner. Brangwyn dared to be different, always maintained his artistic integrity, and was apparently indifferent to the consequences. Critics have been variously shocked, delighted and confused by his work. In the United Kingdom the general tone was one of scepticism during his lifetime, disparagement since; he fared better in Europe and the United States of America.
With Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo as his mentor, an apprenticeship with William Morris, commissions from Siegfried Bing to decorate his seminal shop L’Art Nouveau (1895), from Tiffany to design stained glass (1899), and a significant contribution to the first Vienna Secession (1898), Brangwyn should naturally have been at least mentioned in the Royal Academy show, 1900: Art at the Crossroads. But his total omission from such accounts is all too frequent.
Why have Brangwyn’s achievements not been fully appreciated? Brangwyn had no formal artistic education and remained throughout his life, at his own insistence, outside the art establishment. This was despite the fact that he was the recipient of endless honours. Brangwyn’s lack of art education allowed him to flout convention, to experiment with techniques and mixed media, but also left him outside the artistic social pale. Brangwyn did not appear to regret his lack of training, writing later in life to his early mentor, Mackmurdo, that art schools ‘only produce a lot of clever imitators, and destroy all originality and turn out sophisticated prizes.’