James Brereton: marine artist

Planes, trains and automobiles – if it moved and was mechanical then James Brereton would have been painting it when he first picked up a brush.

But his greatest passion has always been the ocean and the ships that sail on it, and it is paintings of those that have been bought by private collectors all over the world and won him accolades as one of the country’s leading marine artists.

His work is recorded and illustrated in Archibald’s Dictionary of Sea Painters of America and Europe and he has exhibited at the Royal Society of Marine Artists.

“Living in Derbyshire as far away from the sea as you can get on this island, meant I was always fascinated by it. I watched all those old films set at sea and made model boats as a child.

“In fact not that long ago I came across an old photograph of me playing with a one in the bath. I can still remember that one – it was the SS Australia. Even then as a small boy I was intrigued by the detail of the ships, but I never dreamt I would be able to make a living out of painting them,” said James.

It was in 1979 that he discovered the work of Montague Dawson, who in the 1930s was considered one of the greatest living marine artists and had died six years earlier. He specialised in historical subjects and portraits of deep-water sailing ships often in stiff breeze or on high seas.

“As soon as I saw his work I knew straight away that I wanted to paint like that. Now I like to think I carried Dawson’s mantle forward.

“When I started painting  sailing ships my work started to sell. People loved it and I have never looked back.”

In the early 80s James lost count of the number of paintings he sold and he reckons now he must have painted more than 3,000 – with his work fetching four figure sums at the likes of Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

He jokes though that for all that, he is still not a wealthy man and he will only hit the big time after his death.

“I will probably only become well-known and earn a great living 50 years after I have gone,” he said with a big grin.

James was born in Derby in 1954 and says he hated school.

“I wasn’t good at anything except art but when I left school my parents wanted me to get a trade. Becoming an artist was not an option and so to keep my father happy I took an apprenticeship at the Gas Board. I hated that as much as school, but I did last nine years in the job,” he said ruefully.

In 1968 James finally got his way and attended the Joseph Wright School of Art, but apart from that period of study, he is pretty much self-taught as an artist.

Unfortunately six years ago he suffered a stroke during a double knee operation, and a short time after that fell, dislocating his right arm. His painting arm.

“Things weren’t looking too good really and people thought I may never paint again, but I didn’t let it get me down and I taught myself to cope with the injury.

“My paintings were awful at first but now I am back to my usual standard. I still have pain in my arm and mixing colours is the most difficult, but I am not going to let anything stop me painting.” he said with determination.

In fact quite the contrary it seems. James has an exhibition at Duffield Gallery in Belper and says he is keen to raise his profile.

“I need to have one more adventure before I finish and I am hoping for a lucky break now I have made it to 65,” he said cheerfully.

For details of his paintings for sale go to duffieldartgallery.co.uk