WILLIAM MASON BROWN
"FLOWERS AND FRUITS OF SUMMER," C. 1870s
oil on canvas, 16 1⁄2 x 24 inches,
signed "W.M. Brown" lower right.
William Mason Brown is a second-generation Hudson River School artist. Early on in his career he did some portrait painting but mainly became known for his Hudson River landscapes. After 1869 he became famous for his highly detailed still-life paintings. His still-lifes reached a large audience through chromolithographic prints.
Brown was born in Troy, New York in 1828. In upstate New York, he studied with Thomas Grinnell and portrait artist Abel B. Moore. In 1852, he moved with Moore to Newark, New Jersey to complete an apprenticeship as a portraitist. He was inspired by Thomas Cole and the artists of the Hudson River School. It was around this time in the 1850s that Brown painted landscapes.
It was also around this time, that Brown settled in Brooklyn, New York. In Brooklyn, Brown studied with local artists and set up his own studio. Most of Brown’s contemporaries living in Brooklyn were pre-Raphaelites. This group of artists painted exacting landscapes with microscopic detail. Brown applied this technique to his Hudson River landscapes. This approach to painting easily transitioned into an aptitude for still-lifes. The present lot, “Flowers and Fruits of Summer,” is a masterwork by Brown. The composition is filled with the fruits of summer: cherries, currants, roses, petunias and other delicate flowers and foliage. The still-life rests in a naturalistic background as if the overfilled basket had just been placed on the forest floor. Everything is painted with rich detail. Under magnification the viewer can see the seeds and the veins in each small golden currant.
In the 1860s and 1870s Brown’s still-lifes were widely reproduced as chromolithographs. These highly colored and often hand-detailed prints were commonly hung in dining rooms during this period. They were published by a variety of publishers who purchased image rights. Currier and Ives are among the most famous publishers who reproduced Brown’s still-lifes.
During his lifetime Brown exhibited at the National Academy of Design for thirty-one years. Today his work is widely collected in public and private collections across the United States. Museums that hold examples of his work include The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.