Catalog Essay | October 24, 2019 | Lot 90
John George Brown enjoyed a highly successful career during his lifetime as the richest and most celebrated genre painter in turn-of-the-century America. Brown is best known for his depictions of children, particularly street urchins, shoe-shine boys, flower sellers and newspaper boys. He romanticized the poverty and depicted the children playing, laughing or in a comedic narrative.
The young girl in the present lot is a masterpiece by the artist. J.G. Brown was born into a poor family in Durham, England. His father, a lawyer, insisted that Brown learn a trade despite his early predilection for drawing. Brown apprenticed for seven years with a glass cutter and worked at this trade in Edinburgh, Scotland where he attended the School of the Royal Scottish Academy.
When he was 22 years old, he went to London and earned money painting portraits. While in London, he heard a music hall performer singing about American life. He decided to move to Brooklyn and took a job as a glass cutter at the Flint Glass Works in Brooklyn. His employer was so impressed with Brown’s designs that he helped Brown study with miniature painter Thomas Cummings. Brown later married Cummings’ daughter.
Brown continued to study painting taking night classes at the National Academy of Design. In May of 1856 he rented his own studio in Brooklyn. By 1863, he was elected a member of National Academy of Design and begin teaching classes at the Academy. From this point forward, Brown became known as “the boot-black Raphael.” He sold original paintings for $500-700 earning around $40,000 annually and making royalties from lithographs of his paintings that were distrib-uted with packaged tea. A vast sum in the 1860s.
Although many of his paintings feature the same subjects, occasionally Brown would paint truly artistic pieces that showcase his true abilities as an artist. The Flower Girl is one such example, showing off Brown’s talent as both a portrait artist and a flower painter. Probably the daughter of a wealthy family dressed up like a flower vendor. She wears a beautifully detailed lace collar, a silk skirt and carries two baskets with abundant flowers. The black hat on her head is covered with red poppies and daisies, in her hands she carries a tray of pink roses and a basket of roses, pansies and lilacs. Brown paid meticulous attention to detail in the flowers and in her lace blouse. The young girl with her rosy cheeks looks directly forward, engaging the viewer.
J.G. Brown was tremendously successful within his lifetime, and his works continue to be collected by several prominent museum and private collectors. His works can be seen in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston among others.