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Artist profile - James Brereton

PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 January 2019

James at his first art exhibition in three years

James at his first art exhibition in three years

mark laban hansons

After ill health put his painting career in jeopardy, Derbyshire artist James Brereton has battled back to host his first exhibition in three years.

Paintings created by James for his new exhibitionPaintings created by James for his new exhibition

If you’re an artist there can be nothing worse than being physically unable to paint, but that’s exactly what happened to the man described as ‘a Derby artistic treasure’, James Brereton.

His painting arm was dislocated in a bathroom fall which occurred while he was recovering from a stroke. He suffered the stroke during a double knee operation. A triple whammy of health woes beset him.

‘I have had a bit of a rough time,’ said James, without an ounce of self-pity but a big dash of understatement. ‘I had the stroke under anaesthetic when I was having the knee operation three years ago. Then, six months later, I dislocated my right arm – my painting arm – in a bathroom fall. I’m not even sure how the fall happened.’

Things weren’t looking good for James, known to his friends as Jim. Taking to his easel, his livelihood, was out of the question.

Paintings created by James for his new exhibitionPaintings created by James for his new exhibition

You could say, for a while at least, he was sunk – but only temporarily. ‘I started painting again as soon as I could,’ said James, 64, a stoical man who doesn’t let life get him down too much.

‘My paintings were rubbish at first but gradually they improved and are back to my usual standard. I’m not out of the woods yet, I still have trouble with my arm, but I won’t stop painting.’

His fans will be relieved to know that, and though he’s too modest to say so himself, he has many. They include Derbyshire auctioneer Charles Hanson and his wife Rebecca, who are proud to call James a friend and own three of his works.

‘He is definitely a Derby treasure,’ said Rebecca, ‘a brilliant artist and a wonderful person.’

Paintings created by James for his new exhibitionPaintings created by James for his new exhibition

And yet many people in Derbyshire may be unaware of this ‘treasure’ in their midst – a man who managed to quit a job he hated at the Gas Board in Derby thanks to his artistic talent.

He’s exhibited at the Royal Society of Marine Artists in London, he’s featured in books about maritime artists and his pictures can be found in private collections across the world.

Six years ago, one of his paintings, a view of the seashore, sold for more than £7,000 at Sotheby’s and he has also had works go under the hammer at Christie’s and Bonhams.

Bidders have battled to own his works at auctions in London and New York. In all, he has painted more than 3,000 pictures – a lifetime’s output for many artists.

‘The trouble is, if you’re an artist you don’t become really well known until about 50 years after your death,’ laughed James, a down-to-earth Derbeian who has always loved the sea and built model boats as a child.

To help him get back on his feet, Rebecca Hanson pushed the boat out (excuse the puns) to help James relaunch his career just before Christmas. She masterminded an exhibition in December – his first since illness took its toll three years ago.

‘I put together a collection of nine new paintings and Rebecca kindly organised a private viewing at Hansons in Etwall, to enable me to showcase my work,’ said James, who works from his studio in Uttoxeter New Road, Derby.

The paintings showcase James’s classic seascapes, ships with sails billowing in the wind across rolling waves. Of course, Derby is about as far away from the sea as you can get but that’s why Derbyshire people, including James, love sea life so much.

‘I did live on the coast for a while, at Charminster near Bournemouth,’ said James. ‘I’ve painted all types of subjects but in 1979 I discovered the work of renowned maritime artists Montague Dawson and Thomas Somerscales.

‘I started painting sailing ships and they sold straight away. I realised I was on to something. By 1982 I’d lost count of how many paintings I’d sold but it was more than 500.’

Born at Derby Hospital in 1954, James went to various schools, notably Noel Baker. In 1968, he attended the Joseph Wright School of Art.

‘Art was the only thing I was good at, I hated maths and English. When I left school, my parents wanted me to get a trade. I took an apprenticeship at the Gas Board but hated it. It wasn’t for me. I lasted nine years.’

Thanks to his paintings, James sailed away from the nine-to-five and cruised to success. He’s spent the last three years circumnavigating some rocky waters but now hopes he’s heading for smoother seas. This ‘Derby treasure’ certainly deserves a bit of good luck.

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