George Loring Brown

(2 February 1814 - 25 June 1889)

Nicknamed "Claude" Brown for the French landscape painter, Claude Lorraine, whom he admired, Brown was among the most celebrated of American painters living abroad in the 19th century.

He began his artistic career as an apprentice to Abel Bowen and received further training from Eugene Isabey in Paris during his first trip to Europe in 1832 to 1833. On his return to Boston, Brown was inspired and encouraged by the aging Washington Allston, and Brown exhibited frequently at the Boston Athenaeum. In 1839 he returned to Europe and settled in Italy, making a comfortable living for nearly twenty years by painting Italian landscapes to sell to both American and European tourists.

In 1859 Brown returned to the United States, and in the 1860s and 1870s he made many sketching trips to the White Mountains. Perhaps Brown's greatest New Hampshire scene was 'The Crown of New England', a huge panoramic view of Mount Washington, which was purchased by the Prince of Wales in 1861. Brown exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the National Academy of Design. He primarily painted Italian scenes in later life, responding to the public's preference for his European views.


George Loring Brown was an American landscape painter. He was born in Boston and first studied wood engraving under Alonzo Hartwell and worked as an illustrator. He studied painting with Washington Allston, but soon went to Europe, residing principally in Italy for years. Brown spent much of his life abroad, and the motives of his pictures are usually Italian, and there is nothing specifically American about them either in treatment or sentiment. Among the best are "Sunset in Genoa" (1875), "Doges' Palace and Grand Canal," "Bay of Naples," "Niagara Falls in Moonlight." "The Bay of New York" (1869) was acquired by King Edward VII when visiting America as Prince of Wales.


George Loring Brown was born at Boston, on the 2nd of February, 1814. Although this fact makes him one of the native artists of America, he, nevertheless, belongs more to Europe than to his own country, for not only his life and his artistic education, but also the subjects of his pictures, point to the other side of the ocean. This is so much the more remarkable, as he is a landscape painter, for it is especially in this department of art that the effort is perceptible among American artists, to cut loose from all European traditions, to owe allegiance to no school, and to do justice to American nature, which is so different from European nature, by accepting only Nature herself as a teacher, an effort which has, indeed, with but few exceptions, led to nothing thus far but a naked, unpoetical realism, while, at the same time, it has vouchsafed a certain kind of originality to many weak talents, which would have been utterly lost had they come into contact with European schools. But the phenomenon which we have pointed out is explained by the fact that Mr. Brown stands upon the dividing line of two periods. Although a man in the vigor of his best years, he still belongs to an older generation of artists, and may almost be called a representative of a by-gone time. American art, as well as the country itself, acknowledged the sovereignty of Europe at the time of the war for independence. From Europe were appointed the vicegerents of royal power; to Europe people looked for their education, and, for reasons not difficult to understand, this mental dependence continued to exist, even when political independence had long since been achieved. The prominent artists of that and the succeeding generation -- the Copleys, Wests, Trumbulls, Allstons, Coles -- either estranged themselves entirely from their country, like the two first, or else passed a good portion of their lives in Europe, and identified themselves with its art; they either enrolled themselves in the ranks of the scholars of Sir Joshua Reynolds, or followed the paths of classical tradition. Among these followers of the classical ideal Geo. L. Brown must be placed. Since the artists above mentioned, the desire for emancipation has commenced to make itself felt in the department of art, and in such a manner that Church, for instance, did not even visit Europe until after he had attained to his fame. And in this movement this artist he looks as his rea! teacher. While with for emancipation, the landscape artists (and the portrait painters) have taken the lead. Figure painting, as far as it is of any moment, goes in the leading-strings of modern French art, while, for sculpture, Rome continues to be the Alpha and Omega.

Mr. Brown received his first art-instruction from Alonzo Hartwell, of whom he acuired the rudiments of wood-engraving. Somewhat later, he was engaged to illustrate Peter Parley's books, and tried his hand at scene painting upon an amateur stage, of which he was a member. At the same time he studied the decorative works of Robert Jones, a pupil of Stanfield, who then happened to be in Boston, and received, now and then, the benefit of some instruction from Washington Allston. In the studio of this artist, who. it will be remembered, has been styled the American Titian, the love of warm colors and atmospheric effects, which characterize his later efforts, sometimes to excess, first possessed him. By Mr. Isaac P. Davis, who purchased the first oil-color sketch ever produced by our young artist, the latter being introduced to Mr. John D. Cushing, who offered to provied him with the means to go to Italy. The offer was gladly accepted, but instead of going to Italy, Mr. Brown, after a series of mishaps, settled down in Paris, where he remained for three years. Here the works of the French colorists, and among them, especially, those of Eugene Isabey and of Decamps, enchanted him, and when he turned to nature, it was with the endeavor to see her through the eyes of these artists. At last he succeeded in gaining admission to Isabey's studio, and upon this artist he looks as his real teacher. While with Isabey he also drew diligently from the model, at the Louvre, spending five months on a copy of a Claude Lorrain, which, after all, so displeased him that he cut it into pieces. After a sojourn of a few years in his native land, he started for Italy, in the year 1840, and, except upon occasiion of a flying visit, he did not return to America until twenty years later. Arriving at Genoa, "a revelation of color broke in upon his mind," to use the artist's own words. How differently did the deep blue of the sky coruscate there; how much more luminously did the sunbeams glow; what magic effect was there in the exhaustless distance! He felt that his color-thirsting soul had found its home there, and with all the mental and physical energy at his command, he entered upon a course of severe study, for the purpose of fitting himself to sing those paeans of color which he has never since tired of warbling forth into the world -- sometimes, indeed, with rather too loud a voice. He worked sixteen hours daily, almost without interruption; now copying a Claude; now a Poussin, but generally with nature as his model.

During the year 1846, while paying a short visit to his home, the artist exhibited, in the city of New York, a "Moonlight View in Venice," painted for Mr. Geo. Tiffany, of Baltimore. This picture was much admired at the time, and laid the foundation for his fame in America. Two years later he made a sketching tour along the Rhine, and visited Paris again. The summer of 1857 was spent in Switzerland. The remainder of the time, until his definite return to America, he passed in Italy. While there Mr. Brown was continually employed on commissions from people of all stations and nations: Americans, Englishmen, French, Russians and others. In the year 1854 he also executed a series of nine etchings, one of which, "A View near Genzano".

The year 1860 brought Mr. Brown back to America. With his return a brilliant career opened before him. He had brought with him an immense collection of drawing, sketches, and finished pictures, the produce of twenty years of incessant labor, and with these he opened a special exhibition in New York. The result was favorable beyond expectation. Although violently assailed by some critics, he was, nevertheless, appreciated by connoisseurs and art-lovers, and his exhibition was a sucess, even in a peculniary point of view. From New York he migrated to Boston, with the balance of his unsold pictures, exhibiting them there, with like success, in the Athenaeum. The artist relates, with particular satisfaction, that, during the exhibition, the poet, Longfellow, was introduced to him, and that he took him aside and told him not to allow himself to be misled by the outcry of the critics about hligh colors; that his color, although brilliant, was not at all over-wrought, and that no one was able judge of it who had not seen Italy.

Another reproach, which was, however, hurled at him by artists as well as critics, was this: That he painted only Italian scenes, but was incapable of painting an American landscape. To meet this reproach, he painted his large picture, "The Bay of New York," ten feet long, by five and one-talf feet high, which he followed up with "The Crown of New England," as a companion-piece. Although these paintings do not take equal rank with the best of his Italian subjects, they, nevertheless, commanded wide-spread attention, and were almost unanimously lauded by the press.

The first of the two paintings just mentioned, "The Bay of New York," was the cause of bringing the name of the artist before the public in a manner which must be alluded to in a few words:

A number of private gentlemen, headed by Henry Ward Beecher, had clubbed together for the purpose of presenting this picture to the Prince of Wales, who was then just about to return to England, after a visit to America. The presentation took place on the eve of the prince's departure, and after the picture had remained on exhibition in New York for some time, it was sent across the ocean, in charge of an agent, to be delivered. This agent, at the same time, took out "The Crown of New England." which was exhibited in London, and there bought by the prince. When "The Bay of New York" was delivered, the Prince sent to the agent a very valuable diamond breastpin, as, the artist maintained, for the artist; as, the agent maintained, for the agent. About this diamond pin there arose a terrible quarrel, and many a good republican looked wrathfully on to see two other republicans pulling their hairs over the present of a Prince. It is clear, however, that justice was on the side of the artist, for he is in possession of a letter, written by the prince,* [*This statement is not quite correct, as we happen to know. The letter alluded to was written by the private secretary. It is dated May 31, 1867, and signed "W. Knollys."] and called forth by the quarrel, wherein the apple of discord is assigned to the artist. Nevertheless, the case was decided against him by the courts, as an affidavit of the Prince would have been necessary to settle the matter finally, which affidavit could not be procured.

Since these two pictures, Mr. Brown has painted but very few American landscapes. He devotes his time to the elaboration of the many sketches in his portfolios, and revels in the reminiscences of Italian scenery. Very seldom he chooses a subject from some other part of Europe, such, for instance, as "The Castle and Town of Heidelberg," which was finished but lately.

It is apparent, from what has been said in our introduction, that Mr. Brown occupies an isolated position among American artists. Without reference to the matter of his subjects, it is mainly in theiir treatment that he differs from the mass of his colleagues. He is the only representative in this country of what is called, in Germany, "styled" landscape; that is, there is ever a landscape ideal present to his mind, which he endeavors to work out in all his pictures, without, however, doing violence to nature. The latter is made apparent by the fact that he composes but seldom, preferring to paint really existing scenes, which, however, he idealizes and beautifies, as it were, by the way in which he conceives them, and by the magic of the atmospheric effect, which he knows how to pour over them. The latter quality again makes him a painter of sentiment (German, Stimmung), although not in the sense which generally attaches to this word now-a-days, it being almost always understood to mean a sombre, melancholy or, at least, quiet and subdued sentiment. His sentiment is that of an elated spirit; he sees the world continually in its gay, festive robes; his pictures are not like the morbid poetry of a mind at variance with itself and the world (Welt-sehmerzgedichte); they are, on the contrary, songs of joy or of praise; and, even, when he depicts moonlight effects with the hand of a master, it is never the pale moon, breaking through wildly-torn clouds, and casting mysteriously fantastic shadows, but it is the full, bright orb, beaming from an almost or wholly cloudless sky, reflecting its mild light on the playful wavelets of a calm sea, or on the roofs of the houses, and silvering the summits of the mountains in the far-off distance. Certainly such a manner differs widely from that at present in vogue in America. What this manner asks is nothing but an exact copy of any small piece of the world, exactly in that light which may momentarily illuminate it, even with any unpleasant effect that may happen to result from it, and even though such an effect may not be in the least characteristic of the scene itself, but may merely be caused by chance. There are those followers of this manner who feel that even nature, in her every-day garb, may become tedious, and with them the desire to adhere to it leads to what may be called phenomenal painting. It tempts them to catch at all sorts of curious effects of mist and sunlight; to penetrate into the very heart of the polar regions, for the purpose of finding unused themes in the glimmer and glitter of the world of ice, and seduces them, in their ardent endeavor to be always natural, to fasten transient effects upon the canvas, which are so "unnatural," because so unusual to us, that, even when seeing them in nature, we would cry out: "If that were painted, no one would believe it!"

We can readily comprehend Mr. Brown's works, after reviewing his artistic career. We find him, at first, studying the decorative works of Robert Jones; meet him afterward in the studio of Allston, who was a disciple of the Italian masters of color; follow him to Paris, where he shows himself an enthusiastic admirer of the French colorists, and sits at the feet of Eugene Isabey, one of the prominent members of this school; and, lastly, accompany him to Italy, where he is completely captivated by the surrounding nature, and where he selects for his guidance, above all other Italian masters, that highly-praised master of atmospheric effects, Claude Lorrain, whose works he studies with fervent ardor.

Every observer, when first looking upon Mr. Brown's pictures, is immediately struck with their brilliant coloring, combined with a scintillating, often restless, handling of the brash, which threatens completely to break up all masses. There is a remarkable glow and coruscation in them, to such a degree, that, in those cases in which this treatment is not carried to excess, they act upon the beholder like a sudden glimpse of some strange fairy land. In this respect a smaller painting, dated 1863, has appeared to us peculiarly remarkable: To the right of the observer a mass of rocks, challenging attention already by its fantastic formation; in a gorge, through which the sunbeams are falling, a few houses; a small port, with some vessels, in the left foreground, and in the background a boundless view upon a perfectly calm sea, upon whose surface a few small sails are boldly relieved in the distance. Taking a near view of this picture, we observe hardly anything but little spots of color, and even in the darkest of the shadows, there are still to be seen red, and green, and all other sorts of dots. But at the proper distance these spots and dots shape themselves into a magical ensemble, and the distance assumes an extension, which is hardly credible. Many of the expressions employed by Dr. Julius Meyer, in his "History of Modern French Painting," when speaking of Eugene Isabey, might be applied to Mr. Brown with strict propriety, without, however, accepting the verdict which is there finally and remorselessly pronounced against the French master. In characterizing Mr. Brown's pictures, one might also speak of "the prominent points of nature sparkling in the light," which "have been thrown around lavishly, like gems," and it was indeed interesting and instructive to be able to compare a color sketch by Isabey, and to find that it bore out this parallel between the treatment of the two artists.

But if Mr. Brown has inherited brilliancy of color from his French teacher, he has taken to himself a much better quality from his Italian prototype -- we mean the atmospheric effect in his distances. In his best pictures he must simply be characterized as a complete master in this respect. Very naturally he selects with preference those scenes in which an unbounded view upon the ocean and along the shore makes it possible for him to bring into play his extraordinary skill in the treatment of aerial perspective; and, in truth, there is nothing more beautiful in the whole body of American art than these perspectives. One almost fancies, in looking upon such pictures, to be actually sitting upon the shore, or to be afloat upon the waves, and to have before one's eyes the boundless expanse of heaven and water. This applies equally as well to his daylight pictures as to his moonlight effects.

As to the figures in his pictures, he also follows the example of his great prototype, i.e., he "throws them in gratis."

Several times already in the course of this article the occasion has demanded that we should allude to the weaker points of our artist, and as one of the unpleasant duties of the art reporter, if he wishes to be impartial, consists in the statement of the failings which, in his opinion, the subject of his report is heir to, there is no alternative left but to perfom this unpleasant duty here. Mr. Brown has been most frequently and most violently assailed for his over-wrought richness of color. And, indeed, not always unjustly. Agreed that nature in Italy develops a splendor of color, which appears hardly credible to the foreign eye, it must still be admitted that, in the few American landscapes which he has painted, he has sometimes overstepped the bounds in this direction. Generally speaking, his American landscapes are not of his very best, and those who desire to arrive at a just appreciation of his works, must study his Italian landscapes. The reds and yellows which American autumnal nature uses so promiscuously for her adornment, are stumbling blocks which are most dangerous to those artists whose first is color. It must be admitted, however, that even some of his Italian pictures are open to this stricture. In his picture of "Attrani, near Amalfi," for instance, even the mountains of the distance, in the treatment of which he generally unfolds all his mastery, show a truly mother-of-pearl like variegation of colors. But that which in some of his pictures is most of all inimical to a quiet, harmonious effect, is to be sought for in the restless, scintillating handling of the brush, which has already been alluded to, and which resolves all masses into a countless multitude of sparkling points. Again, this mode of treatment is most apparent in an American landscape, "The Crown of New England." Here the effect of the foreground is completely lost by reason of the technique; instead of the mighty forest which fills the middle-distance, the beholder sees nothing at first sight but a surging sea of color, and even the virtuosity of treatment in the mountains of the background cannot bring about a complete conciliation to this picture. Lastly, we will point to the frequently occuring conventional treatment of trees in the foregrounds, and with this we will drop our unsavory task of fault-finding. On the whole, it may be said that Mr. Brown must not be judge by any one of his pictures, as his works vary considerably.

But one of the best qualities of the ariist we have not yet even touched upon, and this quality shows itself in his never-ceasing endeavors to improve. It is this quality which explains the why and wherefore of the fact that one is generally tempted to pronounce Mr. Brown's latest work his best. And, indeed, the three paintings which he has but just finished, combine all his artistic virtues, while his failings are hardly perceptible in them. The concert of colors is considerably subdued; the masses are not broken, but the inimitable aerial perspective remains. These three paintings are entitled: "The last gleam in the Campagna;" "View of Vesuvius from Castellammare;" and "View of Vesuvius from the sea, by moonlight."

George L. Brown. By S. R. Koehler. The Art Review, (May 1, 1871) div