Skip to content
Meditation, ca. 1900–1910

Meditation, ca. 1900–1910

John George Brown (1831 – 1913)

Born into a poor family in Durham, England, John George Brown earned a reputation as one of 19th-century America’s most skilled painters of children, especially entrepreneurial, cheerful street urchins who earned a pittance as boot blacks, newspaper vendors, etc. In some circles, he was dubbed the “Boot Black Raphael” because of the glowing faces of his child figures and his skill of execution. His paintings of these sympathy-arousing children were so popular in a Victorian era of increased industrialization that he became rich from painting sales as well as royalties from lithographs.

Brown showed early drawing talent but was discouraged by his lawyer father who insisted that he learned a trade, so he apprenticed for seven years with a glass cutter at Newcastle-On-Tyne. He worked at this trade in Edinburgh, Scotland and attended the School of the Royal Scottish Academy under Robert Scott Lauder.

At age 22, he went to London and earned a living painting portraits. Inspired by a music hall performer singing about the fascination of American life, he emigrated to Brooklyn and supported himself as a glass cutter at the Flint Glass Works in Brooklyn. His designs so impressed his employer that he helped Brown study in New York with miniaturist Thomas Cummings whose daughter Brown married.

He studied art at night at the National Academy of Design, and in May, 1856, rented his first studio, which was located in Brooklyn. In 1860, he began painting his signature portraits and juvenile figures, and in 1863, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design. He also served as a teacher at the Academy where his classes were very popular.

To escape the pressure of his buying public and pursue other talents, he painted landscapes, some of them rural scenes including the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Hudson River Valley with treatment of light and shadow, in the style of Albert Bierstadt and Worthington Whittredge. One of his exhibition venues was the California State Fair in 1881 and 1884.

Michael David Zellman, “300 Years of American Art”
Peter Falk, “Who Was Who in American Art”
Edan Hughes, “Artists in California, 1786-1940″

Biography from the Archives of AskART.