Untitled Document

Artist Biography

John G. Brown, the most successful painter of children in the 19th century, had humble beginnings in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, where he apprenticed for seven years as a glass cutter. When he moved to London to pursue a career as a portraitist, his first teacher was William Bell Scott, an artist associated with the English Pre-Raphaelites. Brown immigrated to the United States in 1853, and his previous experience enabled him to find work at a glass factory in Brooklyn. His employer recognized his talent and encouraged Brown to study painting. By 1856, he turned to painting full-time while he continued his studies at the Graham Art School in Brooklyn, then later at the National Academy of Design. Brown exhibited two works at the National Academy in 1858, where he continued to show paintings almost yearly until the end of his life. One of the most important connections Brown made during these years was his friendship with Samuel P. Avery, an art dealer and patron who introduced Brown to other prominent New York artists, and made it possible for him to take a studio in the prestigious Tenth Street Studio Building in 1860. Brown was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1861, and became a full Academician in 1863.

From then on Brown’s commercial success was unprecedented, and he enjoyed a long, lucrative career; toward the end of his life his annual earnings were between forty and fifty thousand dollars. The popular images of idealized street-urchins were translated into mass-produced lithographs and distributed widely to a public that was eager to overlook the poverty and concentrate on a romanticized version of the truth. Though he tried landscape painting in the last phase of his career, his finest and most coveted works are often reminiscent of Brown’s contemporary, Winslow Homer. Both painters made genre paintings of children from the 1860s and 70s. These glimpses of a bygone era are conscious efforts to present America on the mend from the tragic Civil War and thus left a legacy of optimism where there had been very little.

Brown's paintings are found in numerous private and public collections including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Springfield Museum of Fine Art, Springfield, MA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Newark Museum of Art, Newark, NJ; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, IL; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie, WY; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


William H. Gerdts, Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting (New York, NY: Abbeville Press, 1990)

Martha J. Hoppin, Country Paths and City Sidewalks: The Art of J.G. Brown (Springfield, MA: George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, 1989)

Natalie Spassky, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985)