John George Brown (1831–1913)
The Berry Picker, 1864
Oil on canvas, 14 13/16 x 10 in.
Signed and dated lower right: J. G. Brown / 1864
John George Brown (or “J.G.,” as he is known), enjoyed a prosperous and successful career painting genre scenes of children He was an amazingly prolific artist; his entire oeuvre consists of over one thousand paintings. His images of city and country children were widely collected and so often reproduced lithographically during his lifetime that many of his works were copyrighted. His scenes of children found such mass appeal that one contemporary observed, “we have no more popular Artist in America than J. G. Brown. He is more certain of his audience, and more direct in his appeal to it, than any other.”
Brown generally portrayed children in a variety of thematic groups. From the beginning of his career until about 1875, the majority of his paintings were outdoor scenes of country children engaged in youthful activities. A favorite theme, which began to appear around 1864, was that of a young girl leaning against a tree in a forest or woodland setting. Paintings such as The Little Queen of the Woods, 1865 (The Jones Library, Amherst, Massachusetts), Resting in the Woods, 1866 (private collection), and The Berry Picker, 1864, are charming statements about the innocence of girlhood. According to Brown scholar Martha J. Hoppin, these works best exemplify Brown’s Pre-Raphaelite style in the particular attention paid to the details of natural elements such as weeds, grasses, and leaves, as well as the dappling effects of sunlight through the trees.
Born, raised, and trained in England, Brown was likely introduced to John Ruskin’s philosophy of truth in nature through his first teacher, William Bell Scott, an artist associated with the English Pre-Raphaelites. After further study in Edinburgh and London, Brown immigrated to the United States in 1853, settling in Brooklyn, where he found work in a glass factory. By 1856, he turned to painting full-time while he continued his artistic studies at the Graham Art School in Brooklyn; then, in 1857, Brown enrolled in the National Academy of Design, taking antique and life classes taught by Thomas Seir Cummings. In 1858, Brown exhibited two works at the National Academy of Design, where he continued to show paintings of children 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’s profession as an artist was secured with his election as an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1861 and full Academician in 1863. His early success marked the beginning of a long and lucrative career; toward the end of his life he was earning between forty and fifty thousand dollars per year. Not only a prolific artist, Brown was also extremely active in a number of artistic organizations over the years, serving as vice-president of the Academy from 1899 to 1903, and as president of the American Watercolor Society from 1887 to 1907. He was a founding member in 1859 of the Brooklyn Art Social, and two years later, he became a member of the Brooklyn Art Association.
Brown's works are found in numerous museum collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Newark Museum of Art, New Jersey.; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.