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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