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 Junius Brutus Stearns  (1810 - 1885)

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Lived/Active: Virginia/Vermont      Known for: portrait, genre, history, still life paintings

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Ad Code: 2
Junius Brutus Stearns
from Auction House Records.
Washington in the Indian Council
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Junius Brutus Stearns was born on July 2, 1810 in Arlington, Vermont as Raphael Stearns, a name he changed after a fight with his father.  He became a noted 19th-century painter of portraits, genre, and historical subjects.  He was a student at the National Academy of Design around 1838.  He began exhibiting there and throughout his career was closely associated with this institution, and by 1849 he was an associate member and one year later a full member.  At this time he traveled to Paris and London to study. After his return he established himself in New York City and Brooklyn, and between 1851 and 1865 he served as recording secretary of the National Academy of Design.

In his history paintings, he did five scenes featuring George Washington--as farmer, citizen, soldier, Christian and statesman.  He also put Indians into his history paintings.  After 1850, he began genre painting of fishing scenes, often with children. Millard F. Rogers Jr. discusses the eleven of these paintings that are recorded:

"His latest treatment of this theme was a canvas done in 1882.  Stearns ranged from the precise rendering of trout as zoological specimens to obvious portraiture in two of the paintings and quite simpering quaintness in the later picture with children.  The landscapes of Stearns' fishing pictures resemble the Adirondacks region of New York State, and it is this rich fishing territory that Stearns is most likely to have chosen for his settings.  Stearns, if not an avid fisherman himself then at least familiar with fishing gear, accurately recorded rods, reels, and other equipment used by his contemporaries (Rogers)."

Stearns named all of his sons after famous painters.

Sources:
Millard F. Rogers Jr. "Fishing Subjects by Junius Brutus Stearns" Antiques, August 1970
Additional information courtesy of of his 3rd great grandson Arthur H. Spear III.

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
A Vermont native, the artist known as Junius Brutus Stearns was christened Lucius Sawyer, a name he later changed after a falling out with his father who discouraged his artistic aspirations. He first came to public attention around 1838 when he submitted The Millennium for admission to the National Academy of Design. This apocalyptic scene of a child at rest with a lion and lamb, drawn from biblical allusion, caused quite a sensation, and, by 1840, Stearns was firmly ensconced in the New York art world. At this time, Stearns began a series of history paintings based on the life of George Washington, many of which were distributed as prints. The popularity of these prints, as well as the mastery of his paintings, cemented Stearns’ stature on the larger American stage. Elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1848 and elevated to full academician one year later, he served as the academy’s recording secretary from 1851 to 1865.

Following a European sojourn in the latter part of the 1840s, Stearns moved beyond Washingtonia and, by the late 1850s, had relaunched himself as a painter of domestic genre paintings, portraits and sporting pictures focused upon fishing. In this dramatic genre scene, what appears to be a multi-generational family is gathered about a table in anxious anticipation of a letter’s revelation. Given Stearns’ abiding interest in Virginia subject matter, the painting’s execution date and symbolic pictorial elements such as the patriarch’s planter attire and the inclusion of an African American servant, the painting takes on a Southern distinction.

After the Civil War, Stearns slowly withdrew from the hectic New York art scene and was killed in a carriage accident near his home in Brooklyn in 1885. His work is held by such noted institutions as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Butler Institute of American Art and New-York Historical Society.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
www.thejohnsoncollection.org

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