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Masterworks from Budapest. From the Renaissance to the Avant-Garde

From 18 February to 28 May 2017

Lucas Cranach, the Elder
Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1526-1530
Oil on panel. 88.4 x 58.3 cm
Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts

Biography and Works

Agostino Brunias
c. 1730-Dominica, c. 1796


The artist's name is spelled variously (Alexander, Austin, August, Abraham. etc.; Brunais, Brunyas, etc.) and the date of his birth is uncertain. In 1752 he submitted a painting of Tobias and the Angel to the annual competition of the Accademia del Disegno di S. Luca, in Rome, registering as "Agostino Brunias, Romano." Three years later his portait was sketched by Joseph Vien (1716-1805) at the masquerade organised by the Académie de France in Rome. Seeking draftsmen to record the palace of Diocletian, the architect Robert Adam hired Brunias in 1756 to accompany him to Spolato. Adam praised Brunias as a "bred painter" while converting him into a meticulous architectural draftsman who, he added, "does my ornaments and figures vastly well." Brunias accompanied Adam back to England in 1758. Two of his five paintings to decorate the Breakfast Room at Kedleston Hall are preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Edward Edwards commended his "decorative subjects for pannels and ceilings both in colour and chiaroscuro" in Anecdotes of Painters (1808).

Brunias exhibited at the Free Society of Artist in London in 1763 and 1764 but his two drawings sent to the exhibition of the Society of Artists in 1770 were submitted from the West Indies. He is believed to haver accompanied Sir William Young (d. 1788), first British Governor of Dominica, to the Lesser Antilles in 1770. Until his death presumably in Dominica in 1796, Brunias concentrated on West Indian subjects, depicting scenes in Dominica, St. Vincent, Saint Christopher and Barbados. He painted for many on the wealthy white oligarchs, such as Sir Patrick Blake and Richard Payne, who ran estates on the islands. A print of natives dancing in Dominica published in 1779 was dedicated to "Charles O'Hara, Brigadier General of His Majesty's Army in America." Brunias apparently returned to England later in the 1770s, exhibiting three Dominican subjects at the Royal Academy in 1777 and 1779, and overseeing editions of engravings after his paintings published in 1779 and 1780. His designs illustrate Bryan Edwards' History of the British Colonies in the West Indies, 3 vols. (London, 1794-1800). Posthumous editions of engravings after his designs were published in England and France in 1804 and 1810. The work of Brunias is represented, among others, in the Fogg Art Museum of Boston and the Yale Center for British Art.

Peter C. Sutton

© 2009 Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Paseo del Prado 8, 28014 Madrid, España

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