John Appleton Brown (1844-1902)

John Appleton Brown (1844-1902)

“[Brown] makes you think of the happy places that you have seen, and the happy events that have occurred in your summer days, he enlightens you concerning his experience and sets you into a hopeful mood…I think Brown paints as he feels, and that he feels poetically and sincerely.” [1]


[1] Frank T. Robinson, Living New England Artists (Boston: Samuel E. Cassino, 1888), p. 27.

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Popular for his depictions of pastoral springtime landscapes, John Appleton Brown was considered one of America’s most prominent disciples of the Barbizon, and later, impressionist styles of landscape painting in the late 19th century. Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Brown was encouraged by his family early in his youth to pursue his art and moved to Boston around 1865, where he trained with Benjamin Porter and worked alongside George Inness and William Morris Hunt in the city’s Studio Building. One year later, he traveled to Paris to study under Emile Lambinet, and was influenced by the subtle textures and palettes of the Barbizon painters Corot and Daubigny. Brown was back in the States by 1868, and married fellow artist Agnes Bartlett in 1874. He returned to Europe with his bride in the fall of that year, where the pair found inspiration sketching in the same glens and valleys of Corot, visiting the regions of Ville D’Avray and Calvados. Brown exhibited several landscapes at the Paris Salon and when he finally settled back in Boston in the summer of 1875, his work was eagerly collected by those seeking this latest painting style.

Brown was close friends with fellow Barbizon admirer and practitioner William Morris Hunt, and the two often sketched together and became regular visitors to Celia Thaxter’s cottage on Appledore Island off the Maine coast before Hunt’s untimely death in 1879.  In that same year, Brown and his wife Agnes began holding annual exhibitions of their work at Doll & Richards Gallery in Boston, and during the 1880s, Brown reached the pinnacle of his popularity when he adopted the practices of the Impressionist movement. He was nicknamed “Appleblossom Brown” for his bright, optimistic paintings and pastels of blossoming apple orchards, praised by critics for their “Wordsworthian”[1] simplicity. In his 1923 article on Brown published in the American Magazine of Art, William Howe Downes writes: “Brown was famous for his paintings of apple blossoms…His success with this class of subjects was phenomenal…In the hands of a less intelligent artist the florid pink and white of these canvases would have been vapid, thin, and a little too sweet; it was never so with Brown’s apple blossom pictures; they had the refinement and daintiness and elegance of the juste milieu.”[2] Brown was equally successful in his pastels, a medium he began experimenting with in the early 1880s and which allowed him to continue his atmospheric studies of Nature with a looser, more translucent touch.

Brown’s work can now be found in several museum collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, and the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine.

References: Falk, Who Was Who in American Art, 1999; William Howe Downes, “John Appleton Brown,” American Magazine of Art, 14, no. 8 (August 1923), pp. 436-439; Frank T. Robinson, Living New England Artists (Boston: Samuel E. Cassino, 1888), pp. 21-28; American Art Review, March 1902, clipping in MFA artists files, BPL.‚Äč

[1] William Howe Downes, “John Appleton Brown, Landscapist,” American Magazine of Art, 14, no 8 (August 1923), p. 437.

[2] Ibid.

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