Benjamin C. Brown

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Benjamin C. Brown was born in Marion, Arkansas on July 14, 1865. Brown took an interest in art early on, but because his parents wanted him to learn a marketable trade, he was trained as a photographer. In his late teens, he studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts under Paul Harney and John Fry from 1884-1885. In 1886, Brown visited California with his family and produced many sketches. He left for Paris in 1890 to study at the Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant.

During the early years of his career, he was active in St. Louis where he taught briefly at St. Louis Art School, Little Rock, where he opened his own art school, and Texas. Early in his career, he specialized in portraiture and still lifes; however, upon moving to Pasadena in 1896, he turned his attention to the local landscape. He was offered a show by John Bentz, a dealer in Asian Art, at Pasadena’s lavish Hotel Green. Annual sales were held beginning 1901. Brown’s earnings from the Hotel Green exhibition allowed him to embark on a tour to Europe. From 1909 to 1910, Brown spent a good portion of time in northern California and became locally well known. He maintained a studio in Mill Valley and made trips to the San Francisco Bay Area, the Russian River in Sonoma County, and the Monterey Peninsula. Although Brown exhibited often early in his career, he held fewer exhibitions later, believing that the frequent exhibitions would cheapen his reputation in the public’s eye.

Brown was an active participant in the arts community and was a member of the California Art Club and served as its president from 1915-1916. He also founded the Painter’s Club in 1906. Along with his brother Howell in 1914, Brown co-founded the Printmakers of Los Angeles which later became the California Society of Printmakers and became its president until 1929.

While Brown occasionally painted in the Impressionist style, his Tonalist works were more prevalent until the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. His works did not sell well initially in New York, because of his stigma for being a ‘California’ artist. His agent suggested that he open a studio from New York, and in response Brown didn’t open a studio in New York and added the word California below his signatures. As Brown’s works were in high demand for sale and exhibition, he received requests across the country from collectors interested in his works. He decided to send color lantern slides instead of the paintings themselves and many of Brown’s peers and critics felt that the photographic effects of his slides were far more artistic than his commercial peers.

In 1925, as Brown’s health failed him, the amount of artwork that he was producing decreased. By 1929, his weight dropped dramatically due to an infection from an abscessed tooth and he became too weak to paint often. His health did improve around the 1930s. Eventually, he died in Pasadena on January 19, 1942. Today he is nationally known for his Impressionist landscapes of the snow-capped Sierra peaks and fields of poppies and locally labeled the “dean of Pasadena painters” and the “patriarch of Pasadena.”

Member: Pasadena Society of Artists; California Art Club; Chicago Society of Etchers; American Federation of Artists; Laguna Beach Art Association.

Exhibited: bronze medal, Portland Exposition, 1905; silver medal, Seattle Exposition, 1909; Del Monte Art Gallery before 1914; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (solos in 1915, 1917, 1918, and group show in 1929); bronze medal (etching), Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915; silver and gold medals, Panama-California Exposition, San Diego, 1915; Oakland Art Gallery, 1932.

Works Held: Oakland Museum; British Museum; Smithsonian Institute; Library of Congress; Los Angeles Municipal Art Collection; Montclair Museum, New Jersey; Little Rock Museum, Arkansas; Cleveland Museum; California State Library; Boise Public Library, Idaho; Southwest Museum, Los Angeles; Helens Public Library, Arkansas; Pasadena Public Library; Museum of New Mexico.

Hughes, Edan M. Artists In California 1786-1940. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Sacramento: Crocker, Art Museum, 2002. N. pag. 2 vols. Print.
Pasadena Museum of California Art,Benjamin Chambers Brown 1865-1942: California Colors. Print.