William Mason Brown (1828 - 1898 )

William Mason Brown was born in Troy, New York in 1828. After spending his childhood in Troy, he moved in 1850 to Newark, New Jersey, where he continued his art education. In the late 1859s he would move again to Brooklyn, New York, where he studied with local artists and established his own studio.

Brown started off as a portrait painter but soon turned to landscape painting in the style of the Hudson River School. Some of his early works include views of the Hudson River Valley painted in the American Romantic tradition; some of these are views around Newark, New Jersey. A prestigious artist of the Hudson River School's second generation, Brown was renowned for his romantic landscapes and trompe l'oeil still lifes. In the 1860s he made several trips to Massachusetts and New Hampshire to make sketches for landscape paintings.(1)

Landscape in April

Landscape in April, 1856, oil on canvas, 35 5/8 x 28 3/8 inches, inscribed

Although the landscape shown above was painted while the artist lived in Newark, it probably depicts scenery in the vicinity of Avon, Connecticut. The Hudson River School painters were known to be "Painters of Faith." The Hudson River School landscape style shows God's grace shed upon the American landscape; their indoor subjects reflect that same grace bestowed in the medium of material success. "As scenes and things at once, the Hudson River paintings communicate a double affirmation of divine blessing. They radiate self-congratulation and an almost cosmic complacency."(4)

Brown exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York City annually from 1859 to 1890. He also exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association from 1865 to 1886, as well as at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, in 1868, 1881, and 1885, and from 1887 to 1891.(1)

Later in his career Brown specialized in still life painting. The firm of Currier and Ives published one of his paintings of apples and berries as a lithograph in 1868. Paintings have to be sketched in reverse on the lithographic stone in order to be viewed correctly when printed. Many of Brown's lithographs depict still lifes of fruit, including strawberries, peaches, and apples in different settings. Some were set on the forest floor and others in bowls and in fine china.

Brown's painting Fruit and Art Objects was purchased by the National Academy in 1889. He painted with a Pre-Raphaelite love of nature's details. His landscapes were picturesque and beautiful. His landscape Twilight (Hawthorne Fine Art) is in the Hudson River School style and is made with oil on board.(2) In this painting we see the calmness and beauty of nature.

Brown's precise, richly detailed paintings appealed to his audiences. The artist died in Brooklyn in 1898. His paintings can now be found at The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and other major museums.

(Ashley Frankel, Spring 2009)


(1) Antiques and Fine Art website (see link below).

(2) Hawthorne Fine Art website (see link below).

(3) "Hudson River School," in Turner, ed., Encyclopedia of American Art Before 1914.


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