John George Brown

(11 November 1831 - 8 February 1913)

British citizen and American painter born in Durham, England. He studied at Newcastle-on-Tyne in the Edinburgh Academy. His parents apprenticed him to the career of glass worker at age fourteen in an attempt to dissuade him from pursuing painting. After moving to New York City in 1853, he studied with Thomas Seir Cummings at the National Academy of Design; he was elected a National Academician in 1861. Brown was the Academy's vice-president 1899-1904.

Around 1855, he worked for the owner of Brooklyn Glass Company, and later married the daughter of his employer. His father-in-law encouraged his artistic abilities, supporting him financially, letting Brown pursue painting full-time. In 1866, he became one of the charter members of the Water-Color Society, of which he was president 1887-1904. Brown became famous for his depictions of street urchins found on the streets of New York

His Passing Show (Paris, Salon, 1877) and Street Boys at Play (Paris Exhibition, 1900) are good examples of his popular talent. Brown's art is best characterized as British genre paintings adapted to American subjects. Essentially literary, Brown's paintings are executed with precise detail, but poor in color, and more popular with the general public than connoisseurs.

Wishing to more faithfully capture his subjects as they appeared in real life, Brown once said, "They will change their dress, as though to show the extent of their wardrobe. Being cautioned expressly on Saturday, and told to return in the same fustian jacket your boy will appear on Monday morning, if he appears at all, in a red woolen shirt. And they are constantly having their hair trimmed -- perfect dandies!" Brown was trying to capture the spirit of street children as people who "pull themselves up by their bootstraps."

Many years later, Brown claimed that most of the street children he painted had grown to become successful businessmen. Brown claimed to bobbies, "I do not paint poor boys solely because the public likes such pictures and pays me for them, but because I love the boys myself, for I, too, was once a poor lad like them."

Brown was one of the most successful genre painters of the late 19th century. He worked as a glassblower in Brooklyn and proceeded to open a studio in 1860, launching his artistic career with a painting entitled "His First Cigar". His paintings of cheery street urchins, vendors and shoeshine boys were quite popular with wealthy collectors. However, Brown falsified his subjects as always happy and healthy with just a touch of grime for cosmetics. These scenes were really below his artistic ability, but Brown did not want to cause social alarm among patrons. Many of Brown's paintings were reproduced in lithography and widely distributed with packaged teas. The royalties earned from one lithograph were $25,000. Brown's financial success allowed for him to paint country landscape paintings for pleasure. John George Brown exhibited many of his paintings at the National Academy of Design from 1858-1900, where he also taught for many years.


BROWN, JOHN GEORGE, American painter, born in Durham, England. He studied at Newcastle-on-Tyne, in the Edinburgh Academy, and after removing to New York City in 1853, at the schools of the National Academy of Design of which he afterwards became a member. In 1866 he became one of the charter members of the Water-Colour Society, of which he was president from 1887 to 1904. He generally confined himself to representations of street child life, bootblacks, newsboys, etc.; his "Passing Show" (Paris, Salon, 1877) and "Street Boys at Play" (Paris Exhibition, 1900) are good examples of his popular talent.

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 4, Brown, John George

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