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Samuel Marsden Brookes

 (1816 - 1892)
Samuel Marsden Brookes was active/lived in California.  Samuel Brookes is known for still life, landscape, portrait.

Samuel Marsden Brookes

Biography from the Archives of askART

Noted for his portraits, landscapes, and especially still life paintings of fish, Samuel Marsden Brookes was born in Newington Green, Middlesex, England in 1816.

His was a distinguished family, one that traced its ancestry back to Sir Fredrik Broke, a Dutch immigrant who was knighted by William of Orange in 1691, and his English wife, Lady Jane Marman, a lady-in-waiting at Court. Brookes father was a distinguished botanist who specialized in the study of fruits and operated a London nursery where he dealt in exotic imported plants. If Brookes family had remained in England, it is likely that Samuel would have pursued formal training in art after his graduation from private school, as he had always loved to draw and sketch.

However, his father decided to emigrate to the United States in 1833, chartering a packet boat for his family and servants, plus various pets, as well as root stocks with which he planned to establish himself as a nurseryman in his new homeland. After landing in New York, the family continued on to Illinois, where they settled in a log cabin near what was the newly founded town of Chicago.

Due to his fathers decision to emigrate, young Samuel found himself at seventeen far from any center for the study of art. Although his father disapproved, he continued his aspirations to become an artist. His first training consisted of observing itinerant artists who traveled the frontier in those days painting portraits. Samuel watched as they mixed colors and filled in pre-painted portraits with the faces of their rustic clients. One of the first paintings he created himself was in 1840, a miniature self-portrait on cardboard pasted to wood. In 1841, he paid a Chicago artist for some painting instruction, the only formal training he was ever to have.

At the same time he was taking lessons, Brookes was also giving art lessons himself, as well as painting miniature portraits for clients of his own. He moved to Milwaukee in 1842, where he met and married. He and his wife moved about as Samuel pursued his career as a frontier portrait painter. By 1845 he had saved enough money to return to Europe so as to study the works of the old masters. Brookes spent a year copying masterpieces in the galleries of London, and this was to be the foundation for the rest of his career. His intent had been to remain abroad for three years, spending time in England as well as Italy, but his wife and children, who had stayed behind in Chicago missed him terribly, and so in 1846 he returned to Illinois.

The work he had done in London copying pictures increased his sensibilities, and his painting commissions grew. At the same time, he was involved with farming as well as the rental of properties, and he became the prosperous head of a large family. Brookes was well known in Wisconsin for his portraits of influential people, including famous Indian chiefs, as well as historical works and genre pieces. His first still life painting was done in 1858, with subject matter that included a basket, a wine bottle, a duck, and a snipe. He went on to create later compositions with exotic fruits. In Milwaukee, Brookes helped form an art union for the sale of artists paintings.

By the late 1850s, his sister-in-law and her husband had moved to California, where they had settled in San Francisco, as had one of Samuels former students from Milwaukee. Brookes decided to travel to California and liked what he discovered in San Francisco. His wife was then obliged to arrange for the sale of their Milwaukee properties, and single handedly bring their six children west to join him.

The family settled into a home in the Mission District of the city, and Samuel Brookes established a studio on Clay Street, where he once again began working as a painter of portraits. Soon he became a well-known figure in San Francisco. As he had done in Milwaukee, he became involved in efforts to establish an art union, and in 1865 helped to found the California Art Union, a forerunner of the San Francisco Art Association, of which he later became vice president. He also was an active member of the Bohemian Club.

During the 1870s, Brookes shared his studio with Edward Deakin, who painted four oils of Samuel that evoked life at the cluttered studio. He was also friends with the artists William Keith and Norton Bush. Brookes became renowned for his skill in painting fish, both living and dead, with exquisite accuracy, especially the silvery sheen of their scales. His still lifes, whether fruit or fish, were often cascading arrangements.

He is also noted for his painting of a peacock, which was commissioned by Mrs. Mark Hopkins for her residence on Nob Hill. He completed Peacock in 1880, when he was sixty-four, and some regard it as his masterpiece. The Hopkins mansion later become the Hopkins Institute of Art, and the building contained numerous canvases by Brookes, many of which were lost when the Institute burned in 1906.

Samuel Brookes continued to paint in his Clay Street studio until the time of his death in 1892, at seventy-six.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Samuel Marsden Brookes was born on March 8, 1816 in Newington Green, Middlesex, England. After immigrating with his family to the U.S. in 1833, Brookes settled near Chicago which was then only a small frontier town. There he received his first and only art instruction from two migrant artists in 1841. The years 1845 and 1846 were spent in England copying pictures at the Nat'l Gallery and Hampton Court Palace. He then worked in Chicago and Milwaukee where he was active with the American Art Union. He moved to San Francisco in 1862 and spent the last 30 years of his life there. Brookes was a founder of both the Bohemian Club and the San Francisco Art Ass'n, and served as first vice-president of the latter. While maintaining a home in the Mission District at 34 Prospect Street, he gave art lessons at his studio at 611 Clay Street which he shared with his close friend Edwin Deakin. Brookes enjoyed great financial success during his lifetime with his paintings commanding as much as $10,000 each from such patrons as E. B. Crocker and Mrs. Mark Hopkins. His early work in the Midwest was mostly portraits; however, in California he gained national renown for his still lifes of fish, flowers, fruit, and birds. Considered to be the finest American still life specialist of the 19th century, his paintings are infinitely detailed and meticulously realistic. Brookes died in San Francisco on Jan. 21, 1892. Exh: Mechanics' Inst. (SF), 1869, 1871 (gold medal); Centennial Expo (Philadelphia), 1876; Calif. State Fair, 1879-90; Calif. Midwinter Int'l Expo, 1894. Works Held: De Young Museum; CHS; Brooklyn Museum; Wisconsin Historical Society; Crocker Museum (Sacramento); Oakland Museum; Nevada Museum (Reno).

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America (Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace); Painters of the Humble Truth; Dictionary of American Art (Baigell); First 100 Years of Painting in California (J. Van Nostrand); Samuel Marsden Brookes, California Historical Society, 1962; Millie's Column, SF Chronicle, Nov. 8 & 9, 1962; Artists of the American West (Samuels); Art in Wisconsin by P. Butts; SF Chronicle, 2-2-1892 (obituary).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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About  Samuel Marsden Brookes

Born:  1816 - Middlesex, England
Died:   1892 - San Francisco, California
Known for:  still life, landscape, portrait

Essays referring to
Samuel Marsden Brookes

Trompe l'Oeil Painting