July 2007, Yale Center for British Art – reflections on Agostino Brunias’s A Planter and his Wife (fig. 1) …
The painting is relatively small – about 12 x 10 inches – and a wonderfully exquisite little gem, its bright gold frame setting off the work of a talented colourist. Pristine whites and vivid pale blues are punctuated with punches of coral red; deep greens and rich ochres define the landscape. In the background are all the hallmarks of an idyllic island day; under a perfect canopy of blue sky and fluffy white clouds, a pair of palm trees rise in the right margin of the picture, nestled against the calm, crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea. However, in the midst of this quintessential tropical splendour, two figures in the foreground, a man and a woman, command the viewer’s immediate attention. Although he is dressed to beat the heat, the man manages to cut an impressive figure in long white trousers, white shirt, and white waistcoat – all immaculately spotless. He accessorises the outfit with black cravat, black shoes with silver buckles, and a long mustard-coloured dress coat with shiny gold buttons, completing the ensemble with a black ‘planter’s hat’. Surely his elegant dress demonstrates his wealth and status, but not so much as his pose, for the artist has frozen him in a perpetual state of showing off; his outstretched arm gestures towards the splendid natural beauty all around him as he turns his face to the lady at his side in a move that silently proclaims his ownership of all that surrounds them....
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