The Making of an Artist

Robin Brooks - Marine Artist

Robin aged 3

Robin's first Ship - Age 3, Swanage.

The call of the sea

The call of the sea.
Robin aged 8 alongside the Eilian, Ilfracombe.
Click to read more about the Eilian

Photo of Robin with bantams

The Gamekeeper.
In the rearing field, Powderham 1964, with broody silky bantams.

Robin's birthplace

1970, Robin outside 'White Cot', Stourton. Born in the tiny cottage in the upper right bedroom.

Robin Brooks was born in the village of Stourton near Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire. His parents separated and in the early 1950's, he and his mother moved to Devon.

This proved to be an unhappy period, but one event was to prove pivotal in shaping his future. In 1956, the film The Battle of the River Plate, a Powell and Pressburger film, was released to much acclaim and nowhere more so than in the South West of England. The story followed the events leading up to the destruction of the German battleship, the Admiral Graf Spee off the coast of Uruguay in 1939.

Two Royal Navy cruisers, HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax together with the HMNZS Achilles, brought the Graf Spee to action on 13th December 1939. HMS Exeter's heroic part made an enormous impression on the 13 year old and he began drawing and painting the ship. This interest in the ship was to become a lifelong passion and though he could not have known it then, it was to be a case of a ship changing the course of his life.

After an unsettled childhood, he left school at 15 without any qualifications and little sense of direction. He embarked on various occupations before becoming a gamekeeper on the Earl of Devon's Powderham Estate near Exeter.

In this relatively settled period, he continued to develop what had been a childhood interest in aviation, naval history, ships and the sea. All this time, he sketched the things that interested him and began to experiment with watercolour. His mother was an unfailing encouragement in those early artistic efforts and it was at this time that John Tremlett, the Earl of Devon's assistant Land Agent, who later became Sotheby's representative in Devon and Cornwall, recognising Robin's emerging talent, played a significant role. Writing some 40 years later, he recalled,

"I have known Robin Brooks since he was a young man. At the time, he was employed as a gamekeeper on the Powderham Estate. On a visit to his house, his mother showed me a watercolour drawing of the 'Cutty Sark'. She had just given him a small box of watercolour paints and this was an early attempt. It was obvious that he had a great natural talent. I encouraged him to continue painting and I am delighted that he followed my advice and has now become one of our pre-eminent marine artists. I am proud to know him as a friend, someone who has risen to the heights he has, by his own unaided effort, with very little advantage at the beginning".

In October 1966, he sold his first painting through an Exeter picture framer and restorer, the late J.W. Urch. Robin recalls,

"I received a card in the post saying, 'Cutty Sark sold, please call'. Mr Urch gave me £5.00, which was the price at which he had sold the painting. That fiver was a great thrill as, at the time, I was earning less than that in a week".

In the following months, many more paintings were sold, not only through the picture framer, but in other galleries and bookshops. By 1967, he received a serious offer to paint full time and with, he believes, some truly amazing luck, he took a huge leap of faith, gave up his secure job as a gamekeeper and rented a remote farmhouse and studio in Devon.

Robin's first painting receipt:

Photo of the envelope from Robin's first painting receipt Photo of Robin's first painting receipt

Photo of Robin and Mary in Rochefort, France

Robin and Mary photographed by Henri Lacheze, on a research trip to Rochefort, 2004.

Robin married Mary in 1971 at Thorveton Baptist Church in Devon. They have two grown up children, Kirsty and Rupert, who are both professional artists based at the studios. Kirsty is married to Dan and they have a young son Edward and have just had a new baby, Matthew.

As well as his great interest in marine painting, Robin has a great knowledge and love of nature in the English countryside. He is an avid listener to BBC Radio 3 and has a great love of classical music.

Links to Robin's childrens' websites:
Photo of John Tremlet

John Tremlet, former Sotheby's representative in the South West

Photo of John Urch

The late John Urch, picture restorer and framer

Photo of Robin painting the Thermopylae

Painting the Thermopylae, 1970.

Photo of the artist's mother

Phyllis Amelia, the artist's mother, 1968.

Photo of Robin sailing

At the helm, down Channel, 1978.

Photo of Robin with his model of HM Sloop Adventure

The artist and model maker, 1987
HM Sloop Adventure takes shape. On the easel is the original painting of 'As for Resolution'

Photo of Robin with seafaring friends from the Royal Navy

'A Seafarers' Gathering', 1994
From L-R Robin, Capt. Alastair Letty,
Capt. Peter Furneaux,
Capt. Richard Campbell OBE RN,
Commander Andrew David RN.

Photo of Robin with the Triumph of the Navigators painting

A Hanging, 1998
Robin prepares to hang the original painting 'Triumph of the Navigators' alongside the limited edition print of the painting in the client's home.

Galleries and Exhibitions

Some of the galleries that have exhibited and sold Robin Brooks' marine paintings are:
  • An occasional exhibitor at the Royal Society of Marine Artists since 1969
  • Harrods, Knightsbridge, London
  • Alexander Gallery, Bristol
  • Gallerie Marine, Appledore
  • Triton Gallery, Torquay
  • Royal Exchange, London
  • Rackhams, a Harrods store, Birmingham
  • Fred Keetch, Exeter and Taunton
  • Purnell Galleries, Baltimore, Maryland USA
  • E. Stacy Marks, Eastbourne
  • Christies, London

Click for more details of Robin Brooks' exhibitions

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