Artist Training – Fanny Brennan

A Continuing-Education Series from Chalk & Vemilion Fine Arts, Inc.


With the premise that one of the best tools you can have to help you sell art is an understanding of the artist him/herself, as part of this ongoing series we will be offering information about our Chalk & Vermilion published artists. The ability to convey interesting, pertinent information and to create a feeling about the artist adds an element to the level of interest that goes beyond a customer’s initial reaction of “Gee, that’s a pretty picture.”

Fanny (Frances) Brennan was a woman of exceptional talent, a grand dame of New York society with a unique perspective on life and art. Her body of work consists solely of very small paintings, never more than a few inches square, in a surreal style with a light-hearted touch. Her prints are always the same size as her paintings; she has never permitted any enlargements to be made.

Her artistic beginnings had much to do with her upbringing. She was born in 1921 in Paris to American parents who, although not wealthy, moved in the upper artistic circles. They were friendly with such “celebrities” as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and young Fanny was exposed to art and the celebration of art from a very tender age. Paris in those years experienced a golden era for artistic endeavors, a heyday of expression and joie de vivre. This was probably a strong influence on Brennan’s art, which always focuses on the beautiful and the positive, the serene and humorous. Dark, ungainly, clumsy subjects do not appear in her work - if something is unnaturally large in the setting she puts it in, it is large with a sense of elegance. She studied art at the Atelier Art et Jeunesse, hung out at Paris café’s with the likes of Picasso and Giacometti, and was included in her first group show when she was only twenty.

She returned to the States, and was married (to man named Francis, coincidentally, although he was known by his middle name, Hank. An interesting sidelight is that ‘Frances Brennan’ and ‘Francis Brennan’ appear side by side in “Who’s Who in American Art”, she an artist, he a well-known designer of typography). She then took more than twenty years “off” from her painting to raise two boys. When her children were grown, she returned to painting. Some wondered how she could put her work aside for so long – doesn’t an artist live to work, and wither away without that creative outlet? Not for Fanny. Her painting was an extension of her life – serene, accomplished, joyful, and fun. In her work, you can see the way that she envisioned the world, with a little give and take between seriousness and playfulness, with a bit of humor, and without taking itself too seriously.

Although we are tempted to call these pieces - which are true stone lithographs - as “miniatures,” she in fact did not like that term. She did not like to analyze her work too much, she simply created it as the “ideas flew into her head,” and were satisfied that there they were, just as they should be. Everyday objects inspired her – photos, magazines, tools – and their placement in unusual settings is one of her hallmarks and the essence of her magic. One reviewer said “There are oceans, trees, spools of thread…none of those presented alone evokes a thrill – they are too familiar. But it is just this familiarity that zaps the viewer on seeing the juxtapositions Brennan works, which are unexpected and yet somehow natural. There is an unconsciousness about the almost-animate objects in her paintings – the needle basting the ocean to the shore, the whisk beating clouds into a fluffy froth – that makes the viewer feel as if he’s stumbled into a new land and caught the inhabitants obliviously going about their usual business. Simple, pleasurable art.” (Deborah Markus, The Spook, Winter 2001) Brennan often painted these objects from life, at the glass-topped Parsons desk that was her “studio.” Generally, Brennan had four or five pictures going at one time – she could imagine more than one parallel world at a time, it seems.

Markus’ review goes on to say “Brennan was one of the few genuinely gifted artists who could do what she did purely for the pleasure of it and still turn out work worth having. She painted what she loved – aside from people. The viewer will search in vain for any human presence in Brennan’s work. And yet she was the most sociable of women. Speak to anyone lucky enough to have known her and the words “friends” and “friendship” will undoubtedly crop up. She was constantly cooking and caring for those in her wide circle. And so the sense of stillness and solitude in her paintings is double striking.”

Fanny Brennan died in the summer of 2001. With the release of Folio XIV at Fine Art Forum in New York in February of 2002, all of her prints have now been officially published. Printing is done by stone lithography in Paris at a venerable print shop run by Jean Michel Machet, master printmaker.

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