Harold Matthews Brett was born in Middleboro, Massachusetts, on December 3,1880, and grew up in Brookline, a suburb of Boston. His study of art began in 1900 at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he attended the classes of Philip Hale and Frank Benson. In 1901 Brett moved to New York, where he studied and was awarded three scholarships at the Art Students League; H. Siddons Mowbray, Kenyon Cox, and Waiter Appleton Clark were among his teachers there. Brett set up his own studio in 1903.
Then in the spring of 1906 he journeyed to Wilmington to study with Howard Pyle, and occupied a studio at 1305 Franklin Street. Soon after his arrival Brett married Edith Elwell of Boston, and the couple settled in Wilmington for nine years. An article about Brett in the Wilmington Sunday Star of December 5,1909, indicates that Edith Brett was a model for many of Brett’s illustrations. In 1915 the Bretts moved to Chatham on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and New York, thereafter spending eight months of the year in the former and four in the latter. About this time Brett also maintained a studio in Boston and there operated the Fenway School of Illustration for several years until World War I.
Brett’s first professional encouragement came from Winthrop Scudder, an art editor at Houghton Mifflin; Brett sold his first illustration to him, and provided many more for the firm over the years. According to the Star article, Brett had been a commercial success in New York and continued to provide illustrations for such magazines as Harper’s Monthly, Century, Success, McClure’s Magazine, Delineator, Saturday Evening Post, and Cosmopolitan while in Wilmington.
New England rural and coastal people and events were Brett’s favorite subjects, and he researched these, as well as his historical illustrations, thoroughly. In 1907 he and Henry Peck travelled together while Brett was studying the life-savers of the New England coast for paintings. These were reproduced in “Life Savers on Old Malabar,” by William Inglis, in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, January 1908. Around 1920 Brett began to focus primarily on portraiture and did a series of Cape Cod sea captains; by 1932 portraiture was his sole artistic focus. His illustration work then was mainly confined to embellishing books, especially those of his friend Joseph C. Lincoln, which include Mary-‘Gusta, 1916; The Portygee, 1920; and Christmas Days, 1938. Brett’s illustrations for The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia P. Hale, 1924, are among his most delightful, in a style more sprightly than his usual broad manner.
0 ther works he illustrated were: The Story of Waltstill Baxter by Kate Douglas Wiggin, 1913; Lorna Dome by R.D.B lackmore, 1928; By the Light ofihe Soul by Mary E. Wilkins, 1907; The Little Colonel by Annie Fellows Johnston, 1895; and
The Siory of A Bad Boy by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, 1923.