Benjamin Chambers Brown
2011/06/02 § 1 Comment
Benjamin Chambers Brown
Dean of Pasadena Painters
By Jeffrey Morseburg
Benjamin Chambers Brown (1865-1942) was known as ‘The Dean of Pasadena Painters.’ He was one of the leaders of Pasadena’s artistic and intellectual community for more than forty years and a vital figure in Southland art. Brown’s earliest works exhibit the influence of the tonalist aesthetic, but soon after settling in California he adopted the painterly brushwork and chromatic palette of Impressionism.
Benjamin Brown was born in Marion, Arkansas, and he received his initial training at the St. Louis School of Fine Art. Trained in photography, Brown made his first trip west in 1885. He sketched in and around Los Angeles, but returned to St. Louis, unable to make a living in Southern California, which then has a very small circle of collectors and a lack of exhibition venues. Brown then sailed for Paris, where he studied for a year at the Academie Julian.
After he arrived back in St. Louis he struggled to build a following for his still-lifes until he and his family moved west to Pasadena, arriving in the San Gabriel Valley around 1895. In his early years in the Southland he painted with the limited palette and closely-related values of Tonalism, but as Impressionism took hold in California, his palette brightened and his brushwork loosened. Brown took on students in order to augment his income from art sales and one of them was Eva Scott Fenyes (1846-1920). Both Benjamin Chambers Brown and his younger brother Howell Brown, who concentrated on printmaking, maintained a long friendship with Eva Scott Fenyes (1896 – 1930), the amateur watercolorist and one of Pasadena’s most important patron of the arts.
Brown was a tall, gaunt man with an eccentric personality. He was a gentle soul and like his brother Howell, he was a lifelong bachelor and the siblings lived with their mother until her death. The Brown home was the site of artistic discussions and hosted a salon for Pasadena intellectuals. The Brown brothers were founders of the California Society of Printmakers and helped popularize the graphic arts in Southern California. Like John Gamble (1863 – 1957) and his friend, Granville Redmond (1871-1935), Benjamin C. Brown’s paintings of California poppies became popular with collectors. At the turn of the century, the spring rains would bring bright fields of poppies to the Altadena meadows above Pasadena. Brown only had to venture a short distance from his home to paint the swaying eucalyptus and golden poppies.
Brown was also one of the founders of the California Art Club, which helped to popularize the Impressionist style in Southern California and he served as its President from 1915 to 1916. Later in their lives, the Brown brothers made extended trips to Europe and North Africa, where they painted and sketched. In California, he painted frequently along the coast- in Yosemite and the high Sierras. Brown also traveled east to the desert near Palm Springs to paint, a favorite spot for many San Gabriel Valley painters. The elderly Pasadena artist continued to paint and make prints through the years of the Great Depression and died in Pasadena in 1942. Copyright 2001-2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without the specific written permission of the author.