Harold Mathews Brett is known for his illustrations and paintings of nostalgic New England scenes. He grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston under Philip Hale and Frank Benson. Later, he moved to New York to study at the Art Students League with Walter Appleton Clark, H. Siddons Mowbray, and Kenyon Cox.
By then a well-trained artist, Brett went to Wilmington, Delaware, in 1906, to study further under the famous illustrator Howard Pyle. He was soon able to make his professional debut in Harpers Weekly, and his work began to appear in most of the national magazines.
Eventually, Brett moved to Chatham on Cape Cod, and for several years was associated with the Fenway School of Illustration in Boston. Brett particularly liked to do New England subjects with an historical setting; he also did a series of portraits of Cape Cod sea captains.
Eventually, he specialized in portraiture, maintaining studios in New York City and Chatham. It might be said that Harold Brett occupied a similar position in art history as Norman Rockwell. Brettís paintings, drawings, and illustrations, which can be seen on exhibit at the Cape Museum of Fine Arts, evoke a similar nostalgic feeling for a different, simpler time.
A resident of Chatham, Brett was primarily an illustrator, working for magazines such as Colliers, Ladies Home Journal, and Country Gentleman. He also illustrated books: Lucretia Hales 'The Peterkin Papers' and several by the Cape author Joseph C. Lincoln. Brett also devoted time to portraits, which were simple, straightforward works. His subjects were undoubtedly painted the way they would like the world to see them: The men were composed and serious, the women genteel. Brett's paintings of local Cape scenes have had the greatest appeal. Viewers are attracted by the quaintness of the works. Done in the 1930s and 1940s, they show none of the influences of modernism.
Although Brett studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, with Frank Benson, he seemingly was not influenced by Bensonís style of impressionism.
**Note about painting; The Cranberry Pickers, done for Joseph Lincoln's 'Cape Cod Yesterdays', nicely captures the era of bonneted women harvesting the berries.
Brett's art is seen best in the context of his work as an illustrator. He depicted a time and place that can be recalled with affection. It is easy to imagine one lingering in front of one of his Cape scenes, trying to recapture the charm of that era.
Sources: The Illustrator In America, 1880-1980, A Century of Illustration, by Walt and Roger Reed Cape Code Times, "Brett Illustrates Charm of Cape Era Gone By", December 14, 2000)