George de Forest Brush


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Painter. He established his career in the 1880s with images of American Indians but later was known for Renaissance-inspired women and children as well as commissioned portraits. Derived from French academic painting, his precise, hard-surfaced, idealizing style equally served his disparate subjects. Born in Shelbyville, Tennessee, Brush grew up in Danbury, Connecticut. He began his professional training at the National Academy of Design before departing in 1874 for Paris. There he studied with Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts. The year after his return to the United States in 1880, he traveled to the West, where he lived among Indians in Wyoming and Montana for about four years. Following an interlude in New York, in January 1886 he left for rural Quebec. In proximity to First Nations subjects, he again lived in Spartan conditions for almost two years. Although Brush's Indian paintings display exacting ethnographic detail, with time they romantically accentuated tribal peoples' heroism and innate virtue. In autumn 1889 Brush returned to Europe. While living mostly in Paris until 1892, he began to concentrate on tender scenes idealizing innocent childhood and the rewards of maternity, often using his own family as models. After his first sojourn in Italy in 1898, iconographic, stylistic, and technical allusions to High Renaissance art appeared more overtly in his paintings, reinforcing an aura of sanctity in his mother-and-child combinations. As he developed into a major figure of the American Renaissance, he also became a sought-after portrait painter. Following many summers in New Hampshire, in 1901 he purchased a farm in Dublin, near Mount Monadnock. This subsequently served as his principal residence, although he also maintained a New York studio and traveled frequently to Italy, remaining for periods as long as two years. A 1937 studio fire destroyed many works still in his possession. He died in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he resided during the final few years of his life. Two children became artists. Painter and sculptor Gerome Brush (1888–1954), born in New York, was known principally for portraits and murals. He died in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where he had resided for some time. Born in Paris, painter Nancy Douglas Bowditch (1890–1979) specialized in portraits. She also worked in theater, as a designer and writer. In 1909 she married a student of her father, painter William Robert Pearmain (1888–1912). A few years after his early death, she became the wife of Dr. Harold Bowditch. A longtime New Hampshire resident, she published a biography of her father, George de Forest Brush: Recollections of a Joyous Painter (1970).

Subjects: Art.

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