William Mason BrownAlexander Boyle
Along with Martin Johnson Heade, William Mason Brown was among a very elite group of artists equally adept at landscape painting as well as still-life painting. He was born in upstate New York in 1828, in the city of Troy, where he also began his art studies under Thomas Grinnell and later with the portraitist, Abel B. Moore. In 1850, at the age of twenty-two, he followed Moore to Newark, NJ, where he continued his art education. After his apprenticeship portraitist period was complete he began to paint landscapes, inspired by Thomas Cole and the romantic artists of the Hudson River School. As the period of his landscape production largely covers the years of 1850 to 1869 his style of painting most resembles that of the Pre-Raphaelites. That is not surprising, especially when one learns that Brown lived in Brooklyn, home to most of the Pre-Raphaelites, and painted microscopic detail with equal fervor. It is not known how involved he was in the Society of Truth in Art, but he is extensively included in Linda Ferber’s 1985 landmark book on the group, The New Path, the American Pre-Raphaelites. Ironically enough, just as the Pre-Raphaelites burned out prematurely from the exacting nature of their work, so too did William Mason Brown’s landscape phase came to an early end as he switched over to still-life painting. After 1869 he primarily switched over to painting fruit and floral still-lives. His work found its way into numerous public collections which include the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, Philadelphia, PA; the J.B. Speed Museum, Louisville, KY; the Haggin Museum, Stockton, CA; the Munson Williams Proctor Institute, Utica, NY; the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, St. Johnsbury, Vermont; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio; the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, and the Peabody Institute, Baltimore, MD. This painting I have now, Autumn on the Lake, near Bolton’s Landing, Lake George, while undated, likely dates to about 1865, the tail end of his early period when tightly executed landscapes were the norm. The crisply painted trees on the right are typical of the early 1860’s. While it is difficult to analyze what the rain plumes in the distance symbolize, themes like “Storms Clearing Off” were used to symbolize the end of the Civil War. Just the way sunset images proliferated five years before hand when they symbolized the end of an era.