Byron Browne


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Painter. Known chiefly for abstracted still life and figural themes, George Byron Browne was born in suburban Yonkers and lived throughout his career in New York. He trained between 1924 and 1928 at the National Academy of Design and later studied with Hans Hofmann. During the 1930s, he produced purely nonobjective arrangements of geometric and biomorphic forms, as well as works that continued his engagement with the cubist tradition and with the contemporaneous work of Picasso. From these sources, he fashioned the personal style that emerged in the 1940s. Suggesting objects set on a table before a window, Still Life with City Window (Whitney Museum, 1945) reveals in the distance a night scene of city buildings below a full moon. Extending the synthetic cubist idiom, the painting presents abstracted and flattened shapes in a pattern of decorative color for an effect that is at once graceful, taut, and sophisticated. During the Depression, Browne completed several federal art projects commissions, including an abstract mural composed of flat, geometric shapes (1939) for radio station WNYC and a stylized figural mosaic (1937) for the U.S. Passport Office at Rockefeller Center. He also participated from its beginning in the American Abstract Artists organization.

In 1940 he married abstract painter Rosalind Bengelsdorf (1916–79), who soon relinquished painting for art criticism. A lifelong New Yorker, she studied at the Art Students League from 1930 to 1934. Her teachers there included George Bridgman, John Steuart Curry, and Raphael Soyer. She continued her training for a year in Germany, and after her return, in 1935–36 she, too, studied with Hofmann. In 1935 she began a five-year association with the federal art projects, which included creation of a major mural (destroyed) at the Central Nurses' Home on Welfare (now Roosevelt) Island, and she participated in establishing the American Abstract Artists. Her mature paintings combine geometric and biomorphic elements, along with occasional representational forms, in rhythmic arrangements within tightly controlled spatial envelopes. Her writing appeared prominently in Art News, as well as other publications, and she taught at the New School for Social Research (now New School) for a number of years. In the mid-1930s she evolved a theory she called New Realism, emphasizing the unity of all matter as revealed by science and providing a humanistic rationale for abstract art by connecting it to a fundamental reality beyond appearances.

Subjects: Art.

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