In his very short life, his works showed considerable promise and included local landscapes, family portraits, figure studies, and book illustrations.
Brian Hatton was born in 1887 in Hereford, England, and he studied at Trinity College Oxford, and at Hospitalfields, an art school in Arbroath, Scotland. Hospitalfields is Scotland’s first school of fine art and the first art college in Britain.
In 1908 Hatton moved to London, where he spent time at the National Gallery copying paintings. In 1909, Hatton was invited to join an archaeological expedition to Egypt.
Back in England, Hatton immersed himself in his painting and received several portrait commissions. Eventually he decided to follow his dream a visit to Paris. In 1910 he traveled to the French capital, visiting the Louvre, and working at the art school, Académie Julian.
He returned to his family home in 1911, the year that a new king, George V, was crowned. Hatton made frequent trips to London and realized that he needed to establish a studio and seek out a well-connected patron in the city. In a letter to him from fellow English artist Briton Riviere, Riviere warned Hatton about London:
“…I feel that a move to London is almost inevitable for you as time went on and I hope that now you are strong enough in your own convictions and beliefs, to escape being drawn into any artistic extravagances and fashions of the day, which have been so much to the fore in these times…”
Despite the warning, Hatton left Hereford in 1912 and with his Oxford University friend and fellow artist, Gerald Siordet, opened The Bronze Door studio in South Kensington. Hatton received plenty of commissions. In 1913, he received a royal commission from Windsor Castle to make drawings of Princess Alice’s children, Prince Rupert and Princess May. Princess Alice was the longest surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria. This commission led to many more from the landed gentry.
In 1914 commissions for his work began to wane and Hatton faced financial difficulties. The newspapers were full of stories about an impending war with Germany and before his 27th birthday, war was declared. Hatton left London and enlisted as a trooper with the British cavalry.
He and his regiment sailed for Egypt in December 1915. Hatton was now back in the country he had visited seven years earlier when he was part of the archeological dig. In his last letter home in April 1916, he wrote:
“…To me, at the time, it all seems ridiculous – like a comic opera. The men were all smoking and joking and nobody seemed in the least danger. One only has to take reasonable precautions and lie down behind a few inches of sand hill to be quite safe from any bullet…”
In April 1916, combat engineers were sent to sink wells in the Sinai Desert and to protect. Hatton was a member of that troupe. On Easter Sunday, April 23rd they came under heavy attack from a Turkish infantry regiment. The British commanding officers asked for volunteers to ride back to their main garrison to get backup troops. Hatton volunteered. Months later his body was found. He was 29 years old when he died.
In 1926, Walter Shaw Sparrow, a British art critic on art wrote:
“…Brian Hatton had the rarest of all things – true genius… a boy endowed with gifts of spirit so extraordinary that the first period of work from the age of ten, 1897, to that of nineteen, 1906, was a period not of rare promise only but also of wonderful achievement, showing not only maturity of Design, but maturity of Poetic Feeling, and a charm brimming with country life and English humour…”
Before leaving for his service, Hatton sold a picture of Siordet wearing a helmet for only 35 guineas ($4). When Siordet heard of Hatton’s death he asked Captain Val Burkhardt (Siordet’s cousin), who was serving in Egypt, for more information. Burkhardt managed for a memorial to be put in place at the spot were he was killed:
2 Lieut Brian Hatton Worcester Yeomanry. A fine artist and a gallant soldier. 23rd April 1916 R.I.P
Siordet’s poem To The Dead (1916) was published in the London Times. He joined the King’s Own Royal Regiment in January 2017 and was killed in battle in Iraq a month later. He was 32 years old. His body was never found.
The Hereford Museum of Art has a small permanent exhibition of Hatton’s work.
If you are interested, there is a biography imaginatively titled Brian Hatton (1978) by Celia Davies.