Henry Kirke Brown


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Sculptor. Among the earliest Americans to work regularly in bronze, he pioneered in redirecting taste from the widely popular neoclassicism of the pre–Civil War period toward a greater naturalism of both form and content. Although he also executed invented subjects, he is particularly known for public monuments commemorating notable Americans. The best known, an equestrian George Washington (Union Square, New York, 1856), realistically depicts the general, his horse, and his military garb, but its air of classical nobility reaches back to Roman and Renaissance precedents. This large and complex work represents also a technical milestone in American bronze casting. Resisting the practice common among American sculptors to work in Italy, Brown ranks as the first significant American sculptor to choose to make a career in the United States after training abroad. He championed development of an indigenous but sophisticated sculptural practice based on nature and emphasizing American subjects. In 1859–60 he headed a presidentially appointed national arts commission, the first of its kind, to urge recognition of American art, especially in the decoration of the U.S. Capitol. Born and raised on a farm in north central Massachusetts, near Leyden, in 1832 he went to work for painter Chester Harding in Boston. Four years later he moved to Cincinnati, where he soon turned to sculpture. From 1839 until 1842 he worked in Boston and in Albany and Troy, New York, before sailing to Europe. During two years in Florence and two in Rome, he mastered the prevailing neoclassical approach and completed a number of ideal figures. After settling in New York in the autumn of 1846, he began to emphasize greater realism in his work. About two years later he moved his home and studio to Brooklyn. There he soon also established a foundry, which employed two French artisans, to cast artistic and decorative work, including his own. Largely at Brown's urging, in 1849 the American Art-Union began distributing small bronzes, such as his classically inflected Choosing of the Arrow (Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1849). He based this graceful but realistic Indian subject on studies made during an 1848 trip taken for that purpose to Mackinac Island, Michigan. After receiving a commission for a 10.5-foot standing portrait of De Witt Clinton (Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, 1852; model completed 1851), Brown worked with a Massachusetts company to develop the first American facility for casting large-scale sculpture. In 1857 he moved permanently to Newburgh, on the Hudson River north of New York.

Brown and his wife raised her nephew, the sculptor Henry Kirke Bush-Brown (1857–1935). Known particularly for portraits and public memorials, he also executed a number of imaginative subjects. His Buffalo Hunt won acclaim at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Bush-Brown was born in Ogdensburg, in northern New York, but grew up in Newburgh after his adoption by the Browns at an early age. Following initial training with Brown, he enrolled at the National Academy of Design. From 1886 until 1890 he studied and worked in Paris and Florence. He returned to Newburgh but in 1898 moved to New York, where he had maintained a studio for several years. In 1910 he relocated permanently to Washington, D.C. Painter Margaret Lesley Bush-Brown (1857–1944), who also made etchings during the 1880s, became his wife in 1886. She became known especially for portraits but on occasion executed other subjects. Born in Philadelphia, Margaret White Lesley began her training at Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design) before entering the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1876. During four years there, she worked with Thomas Eakins and Christian Schussele. In 1880 she departed for Paris to continue her studies. Except for a visit home in 1882, she remained until 1883. She died in Ambler, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.


Subjects: Art.

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