Benjamin Chambers Brown

2011/06/02 § 1 Comment

Brown's "Laguna Vista" is at the Laguna Beach Museum of Art

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's San Bernardo Mountains

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.

The Silence and Solitude of Granville Redmond

2011/05/18 § Leave a comment

Granville Redmond - Sunset Through the Trees - Private Collection

Granville Richard Seymour Redmond

From Silence and Solitude to Sunlit Poppies

by Jeffrey Morseburg

Rendered deaf and speechless by scarlet fever at age three, Granville Redmond (1871-1935) communicated with the world through the visual language of his art. Although he was personally drawn to ‘pictures of silence and solitude,’ his Barbizon inspired landscapes did not reach the same heights of popularity that his colorful paintings of California poppy fields achieved.

Redmond’s early works were moody depictions of the southern California landscape. Gradually his palette brightened and his work became more painterly as he came under the spell of Impressionism. Many of Redmond’s mid-life works were painterly, with brighter colors, but they remained part of the tonalist aesthetic. In the final stages of his career, the artist’s palette became intensely colorful, and he relied on a surface that was thick with impasto, giving his paintings a decidedly post-Impressionistic quality.

Granville Redmond in his studio

Granville Redmond was born in Philadelphia in 1871. The Redmond family moved to San Jose, California, and shortly thereafter, they enrolled Granville in the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. His teacher, a naturalist named Theophilus Hope d’Estrella, recognized Granville’s artistic talent and saw to it that the boy received the encouragement he deserved.

After his graduation from the school for the Deaf in 1890, he was awarded funds to attend California School of Design, where he studied under Arthur Matthews, a leader in the Northern California Arts and Crafts movement. In 1893 another scholarship allowed him to venture to Paris, where he attended the Academie Julian, rooming with the deaf sculptor, Douglas Tilden.

In 1895, Redmond had the distinction of having his huge painting, Matin d’Hiver, accepted to the Paris Salon, an impressive feat for a young American painter. In 1898, he returned to California, settling in Los Angeles, where he met and married a deaf woman, Carrie Ann Jean.

"Nocturne" by Granville Redmond

In Los Angeles, Redmond lived in the Highland Park area and painted with Elmer Wachtel and Norman St. Clair. Established in southern California, he began to forge a career as a painter and gained a reputation for his landscapes. In 1908, Redmond moved bacck north where he often painted with Xavier Martinez (1816 – 1943) and his old friend from the School of Design, Gottardo Piazzoni (1872 – 1945).

Because of his deafness, Redmond was gifted in the art of pantomime and he utilized his skill to garner work in the silent film industry. Redmond developed a friendship with the famous actor, Charlie Chaplin, who learned pantomime routines from the deaf painter, and used Redmond in some of his films. In addition, Chaplin gave Redmond a studio in which to paint that was located on the movie studio lot. He painted throughout southern California, from the Laguna surf to the poppy fields in the high desert. Redmond’s usual sensitivity to nature is evident in every work, whether it is a luminous painting of the surf lit by the moon, a quiet pol in the late afternoon, or the hills of poppies and lupine for which collectors still clamor. Copyright 2001-2011, Jeffrey Morseburg, 2001-2011, not to be reproduced without author’s specific written permission.

"Lifting Nature's Veil" by Granville Redmond

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