Expanding Horizons, 1800-1817
- In the early years of the nineteenth century Brewster
artistic career flourished with the help of several important family commissions
in Maine and Massachusetts, most notably the Cutts and Prince families.
These years also marked the development of a signature style of painting
children in a full-length format, with white garments and large expressive
eyes projecting an air of angelic innocence. In these pictures of children,
one sees the palpable rapport that must have existed between Brewster and
his young sitters. This rapport may have been easier to grow between himself
and his young sitters who would have been captivated by his animated gestures
and pantomime. These paintings show just one of the ways in which Brewster's
deafness affected his painting.
- Brewster's deafness may also have shaped his mature portrait
style, which centers on his emphasis on the face of his sitters, particularly
the gaze. He managed to achieve a penetrating grasp of personality in likenesses
that engage the viewer directly. Brewster combined a muted palette that
highlights flesh tones with excellent draftsmanship to draw attention to
the eyes of his sitters. The importance of direct eye contact to a Deaf
person cannot be overstated. Modern viewers even a palpable sense of silence
in Brewster's serene and ethereal paintings.
- In 1805 Brewster's brother, Dr. Royal Brewster, completed
construction of his Federal style house in Buxton, Maine. John Brewster
moved in and lived there with his brother's family for the rest of his
life. At about this same time Brewster began signing and dating his paintings
with greater frequency, and also moved away from the large-format, Grand
Manner style of his earlier years. He developed an effective half-length
format that was no doubt less expensive than the full-length ones, yet
also more intimate, as it allowed Brewster to focus more attention on the
faces of his sitters. Brewster worked in this style until 1817, when a
unique educational opportunity presented itself in his home state of Connecticut,
a prospect that would ensure his presence at the birth of Deaf culture
and conscious in America.
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in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster, Jr.
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