JOHN GEORGE BROWN (1831-1913)
John George Brown's sentimentalized portrayals of street urchins, reproduced by the thousands, made him the richest and most celebrated genre painter in turn-of-the-century America. Born in Durham, England in 1831, Brown studied art in England and Scotland before coming to America in 1853.
He was a glassblower in Brooklyn, and a student at the National Academy of Design in New York City. He opened a studio there in 1860, when his painting "His First Cigar" launched his national reputation. Brown exploited his considerable talent to supply the Victorian taste for his specialty-adept (copyrighted) pictures of young white shoeshiners, vendors and servants.
From the 1860s on, his reputation as "the boot-black Raphael" never flagged. Toward the end of his life, his yearly income averaged $40,000. Originals sold for $500 to $700. Royalties from just one lithograph, distributed with packaged tea, totaled $25,000.Though he claimed the successful formula of "contemporary truth" for his pictures, none gave doting collectors or wealthy patrons cause for social alarm. He falsified his subjects, who were in reality minority immigrants whose lives were often wretched struggles for survival.
Brown's street juveniles are invariably cheerful, spunky tykes-never sick, sad, emaciated, hungry or noticeably foreign. Their ragged clothing is picturesque, their grime cosmetic. They are undeniably appealing. Even the most uneven of Brown's popularized works show painterly skill and sound training.
Brown realized he was pressured by his buying public into subjects and techniques below his true ability; the pictures he painted for pleasure, using his full range of artistry, are straightforward and distinguished. Most are of country scenes and outdoor pastimes, with none of the contrived look of his commercialized "trademark" paintings.
Brown's "View of the Palisades" (1867, private collection) is a delightful and unaccustomed departure from his genre work. Showing boats on a calm, open bend of the Hudson, it is broadly painted, expansive in feeling, with crisp detail and care in every brushstroke.Brown died in 1913 in New York City. MEMBERSHIPS
National Academy of Design
American Water Color Society
Corcoran Art Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Peabody institute of the City of Baltimore
G.W.V. Smith Art Gallery, Springfield, Massachusetts