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 Richard Norris Brooke  (1847 - 1920)

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Lived/Active: District Of Columbia      Known for: genre, portrait, landscape and figure painting

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Ad Code: 3
Richard Norris Brooke
from Auction House Records.
Illuminated Page
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following quotations, by and about the artist, are excerpted from an undated article, "Artists at Home", by Richard Norris Brooke in the Times Daily (location not given).  Edith Brooke Robertson, great niece of the artist, submitted the information.

The artist, who kept a record of everything he ever painted with dates, place, and sales record, is described as "a slender man, of infinitely refined manner and bearing, with a quiet voice and unmistakable conviction of truth in every spoken word."  His studio was "an immaculate room, the almost fastidious neatness of the man himself, the sensitive, large white hands that gleamed in the half light, told almost as much of the inner man as any careful study."  He was 67 years old, but "his laugh was as spontaneous and infectious as a young boy's."

Of his life he said: "I was born in Warrenton, VA, and have always made my home there as much as I could ever since.  When I was nineteen, I studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and had 197 pupils.  Afterward I was at the Virginia Military Institute where they had created a chair of fine arts.  Shortly afterward, I went as consul to La Rochelle, France, for four years, but did not do anything but charcoal work.  Bonnat was my real teacher, and I studied with him in Paris, returning home with a canvas which now hangs in the Corcoran Art Gallery."

(This picture has attracted widespread attention for many years, being one of the few paintings of that era of negro subjects.  It is called The Pastoral Visit, and shows an old negro preacher making a call upon some of his colored parishioners.)

Of the painting, he said:  "You see I saw the opportunity with the eyes of one from the Continent.  . . .My painting was a true picture, a sincere reproduction of a phase of pastoral life familiar to every American.  But the war changed everything.  The romance, the essential pastoral qualities of negro life, were undermined.  I had caught the last flashes of a fast changing social order."

Richard Brooke was not adverse to change.  He said:  "We needed cubism.  It has helped the world of art more than most people can understand.  The ultra-impressionists have heightened up color in a remarkable manner.  . . .I have taken black, burnt siena, and almost all of all the darker colors gradually off my palette."

Of his commitment to art he said:  You see, that sincerity and broad mindedness, being one's best self, is what counts in art as well as in anything else."

Tragically 225 of his paintings were destroyed in a fire in his home.

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
Born in Warrenton, Virginia, Richard Norris Brooke studied with Edmund Bonsall and James Lambdin at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he also exhibited.  He taught at several schools, including the Virginia Military Institute (1871-1872).  From 1873 until 1876, Brooke served as U.S. Consul at La Rochelle, France, and subsequently studied under Benjamin Constant and Leon Bonnat in Paris.

On his return to the United States he settled in Washington, D.C., on Vernon Row at 10th and Pennsylvania, and painted two well received genre pictures of African-American life, The Pastoral Visit (1880; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and Dog Swap (1881; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.).

Brooke's interest in black genre subjects was successful but short-lived.  After 1881, he devoted himself almost entirely to landscape painting, forming, with William Holmes, Edmund Messer, James Moser, Max Weyl and others, the "Washington Landscape School." Inspired by the French Barbizon masters and their Dutch and American followers, many of whom were represented in the Thomas E. Waggaman collection begun by Brooke in 1882, the group recorded the fast-fading arcadian beauties at the Capitol, especially around Rock Creek Park and along the Potomac. In later years he shared studio space with Max Weyl in what were known as the "Barbizon Studios" near the White House, and lived with his nephew in Warrenton.

Nancy Rivard Shaw, 2001 © Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.

Catalogue Fine Arts Section: Appalachian Exposition. Knoxville, Tennessee: 1910, page 66, no. 240.

Cosentino, Andrew J. and Henry H. Glassie. The Capital Image: Painters in Washington, 1800-1915. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Press, 1983.

Kelly, James C. Virginia Visions: Selections from the Collection of Robert M. Hicklin, Jr., Inc. Richmond,Virginia: The Virginia Historical Society, 1995.

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Richard Brooke is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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