BENJAMIN BROWN (1865-1942)
A painter, printmaker and photographer known for his impressionist landscapes, Benjamin Chambers Brown became known as the “Dean of Pasadena Painters.” Born in Marion, Arkansas in 1865, Brown grew up in Little Rock. First trained as a photographer, he then studied with John Hemming Fry (1861-1946) and Paul E. Harney (1850-1915) at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts beginning in 1884. His father hoped to move to Pasadena for his health, but after traveling there with his family in 1886 found he could not afford to purchase real estate and returned to Little Rock. Brown enrolled again in the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, studying there for about two years. In 1890 he went to Paris where he studied at the Académie Julian under Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant (1845-1902) and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921). After a year Brown returned to Little Rock, where he opened an art school and established himself as a successful portrait painter. After his father’s death, Brown, his mother and his brother Howell C. Brown (1880-1854) moved to Pasadena in 1896 where they lived together; Brown never married. He found that there was little market for portraits, and turned to painting landscapes, inspired by the example of the landscapes of William Wendt (1865-1946). Sales from an exhibition of his works at Pasadena’s Hotel Green enabled him to travel to Europe, where he sketched scenes in France and Italy that would provide material for many of his works. A Pasadena art dealer began annual exhibitions of Brown’s work in 1901. Over time he adopted the impressionist style, which proved to be very popular. Brown created lithographs and etchings as well as paintings, and exhibited with the California Society of Etchers during the 1910s and founded the Printmakers of California in Los Angeles in 1914 (later the California Society of Printmakers) and was its president until 1929. He was one of the founders of the California Art Club and served as its president from 1915 to 1916. Brown worked in Northern California in 1909 and 1910, with a studio in Mill Valley He traveled to the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County and to the Monterey area, and spent the summer of 1912 at Lake Tahoe. Brown exhibited in Los Angeles, Monterey, New York and San Francisco in addition to Pasadena. He exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition and won medals at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, the 1909 Seattle World’s Fair and the 1915 San Diego Panama-California Exposition. He exhibited two paintings and nine prints in San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, winning a bronze medal for his etchings. After the PPIE Brown’s art incorporated the use of bright colors, creating the signature style for which he is known. His travels included a two-month trip through the Sierra Nevada in 1920. That year he and his brother (who was also a printmaker) organized the first of a series of international exhibitions of prints in Los Angeles featuring the works of artists from around the world. Brown suffered from poor health in the late 1920s and his output declined, but he continued to work. During the 1930s his health improved and Brown and his brother took long trips to Europe in 1934 and 1936, and a trip to Africa, Turkey and Europe in 1937. Then his health worsened, and he died of pneumonia at home on January 14, 1942. (TNB 11/2014) Selected bibliography: Shields, Scott, et al. Benjamin Chambers Brown, 1965-1942: California Colors. Exhibition catalog. Pasadena: Pasadena Museum of California Art, 2007.