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Vividly True to Nature: Harrison Bird Brown, 1831-1915

March 10 - September 9, 2007

 

Vividly True to Nature: Harrison Bird Brown, 1831-1915, featuring 42 paintings and two works on paper, is the first retrospective of the work of late-19th-century landscape painter Harrison Bird Brown. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and the White Mountains to the Alps, Brown's scenes capture and communicate an abiding love for nature along with a fascination for humankind's place within it. The exhibition will demonstrate this Portland, Maine native's diverse and prodigious skills while providing a window into the cultural landscape of the 19th century. Vividly True to Nature: Harrison Bird Brown, 1831-1915 will be on view March 10 through September 9, 2007 at the Portland Museum of Art. (right: Harrison Bird Brown (United States, 1831-1915), A Recollection of Italy: View of Isola Bella from Stresa, circa 1880, oil on canvas, 15 1/16 x 28 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Roger and Katherine Woodman, 1967.1)

Throughout the second half of the 19th century, Harrison Bird Brown was the most prolific professional landscape artist in Portland, Maine. He drew his subject matter from local maritime and rural subjects, but also from his travels to Mount Desert, the Canadian Maritimes, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and Europe.

Brown began his career in the fine arts with local scenes, such as View of the Forest City Sugar Refinery (1860), which testify to the rising economic strength of New England towns and document the industrial landscape of the time. Key to these works is a pride of place and a desire to help establish civic character. Around this same time, he also marketed his skills to well-to-do Portland citizens who wanted a portrait of their home or landholdings. Throughout the 1860s he specialized in what were termed "homestead" portraits of the birthplaces or current homes of prominent men, such as View of the J. B. Coyle House (circa 1860s), depicting a fashionable home in Portland's Back Cove neighborhood.

Despite Brown's skill in urban scenes, he would eventually become best known for more pure landscapes. Brown maintained a home and studio on Cushing Island in Portland's Casco Bay, where he saw and painted dramatic scenes of surf crashing on the rocky coast (Approaching Storm, Maine Coast, circa 1870). Responding to an enthusiasm for this kind of scene on the part of the art-buying public, Brown was incredibly prolific, saturating the local market with small-scale scenes based upon this formula. But even while producing these mass-market images, Brown worked on extremely ambitious and technically accomplished compositions. His Camping at Grand Manan with the W.H. Pratt of Boston Offshore (1870), a scene in New Brunswick, is among his largest and most impressive maritime-themed works, as are two monumental views of Cushing Island recently purchased by the Portland Museum of Art and conserved in preparation for this exhibition. (right: Harrison Bird Brown (United States, 1831-1915), Camping on Grand Manan with the W.H. Pratt of Boston Offshore, 1870, oil on canvas, 20 _ x 36 1/8 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum purchase with support from The Peggy and Harold Osher Acquisition Fund, Friends of the Collection, Rudolf F. Haffenreffer IV Charitable Trust, The Janet Drummond Memorial Fund and gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Robert N. Bass, Joan B. Burns, William D. Hamill, Mr. and Mrs. George M. Lord, Rosamond S. Richardson, Anita and Charles Stickney, Roger and Katherine Woodman and three anonymous donors, 1987.90)

Frequent summer sketching trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire resulted in numerous views of the majestic landscape and burgeoning tourist industry in that part of New England. Two of Brown's White Mountains compositions-The Heart of the Notch (1890) and Mt. Washington from Frankenstein (not dated)-were reproduced as widely distributed lithographs, testifying to Brown's role in the area's increasing popularity. A centerpiece of this section of this exhibition is a large 1880 view of Tuckerman's Ravine in the Presidential Range, showing the looming dark mountain dwarfing travelers on a mountain path. This recent gift to the Portland Museum of Art was recently conserved and will be on public display for the first time in this exhibition.

Brown also traveled far outside of New England. A trip to Europe in 1871 would provide subject matter for him for the rest of his career. From sketches made in England, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, Brown produced delightful studio paintings after his return to the United States. A Recollection of Italy: View of Isola Bella was painted around 1874, depicting an island in Lake Maggiore, in the north of Italy. The poetic portrayal of the temple ruins and the quaint town recall Brown's early talent for architectural subjects and urban landscapes while embracing an international interest in classical antiquity. (right: Harrison Bird Brown (United States, 1831-1915), View of Captain John Brown Coyle's House, before 1861, oil on board, 28 _ x 42 _ inches, Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of the estate of Blanche Coyle Newhall, 1973.21)

Brown continued to paint landscapes into the earliest years of the 20th century, producing both large-scale, dramatic compositions as well as intimate, gem-like cabinet pictures. Brown experimented freely with color, with his grisaille composition of a river dam and train trestle standing in stark contrast to the lush hues of a painting like Landscape at Sunset (both undated). The latter connects Brown to great colorists like Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt, and also anticipates Impressionism with its painterly treatment of the sky and haystacks.

This exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated publication with contributions from Jessica Skwire Routhier, Associate Curator at the Portland Museum of Art, and Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and a longtime scholar of Brown's work. The publication will be available in the Museum Store beginning in March 2007.

 

 

(above: Harrison Bird Brown (United States, 1831-1915), Untitled [White Head, Cushing Island], circa 1890s, oil on canvas, 50 x 34 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum purchase with support from the Director's and Curators' Hamill Acquisition Fund, 2006.5.2)

 

Checklist for the exhibition

 
All works are by Harrison Bird Brown (United States, 1831­1915). Dimensions are in inches, height preceding width.
 
1. Approaching Storm, Maine Coast, circa 1870
oil on canvas
10 _ x 20 1/4
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of the artist, 1911.1
 
2. Barn Interior, 1880s
oil on canvas
18 x 30 1/8
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Reverend George Monks, Commander John P. Monks and Mrs. Constantine A. Pertzoff, 1944.6
 
3. The Benjamin Homestead, Livermore, Maine, 1883
oil on canvas
24 15/16 x 48 1/4
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mrs. John Hutchinson Hyde, 1962.5
 
4. By the Sea Shore, undated
oil on canvas
10 _ x 17 1/8
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mrs. John Hutchinson Hyde, 1961.10
 
5. Camp by the Shore, undated
oil on canvas
13 x 25
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mrs. John Hutchinson Hyde, 1962.4
 
6. Camping on Grand Manan with the W.H. Pratt of Boston Offshore, 1870
oil on canvas
20 _ x 36 1/8
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum purchase with support from The Peggy and Harold Osher Acquisition Fund, Friends of the Collection, Rudolf F. Haffenreffer IV Charitable Trust, The Janet Drummond Memorial Fund and gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Robert N. Bass, Joan B. Burns, William D. Hamill, Mr. and Mrs. George M. Lord, Rosamond S. Richardson, Anita and Charles Stickney, Roger and Katherine Woodman and three anonymous donors, 1987.90
 
7. Cliffs in a Storm, 1879
oil on canvas
25 1/4 x 15 1/8
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Harriet B. Creager, 1923.10
 
8. Coastal View (Portland Harbor), undated
oil on canvas
9 x 18
Collection of Barbara and Seth Rosenzweig
 
9. Diamond Cove, Great Diamond Island, Casco Bay, Maine, 1863
oil on canvas
14 x 24
Collection of Roger Berle
 
10. Farm through the Trees, undated
oil on canvas
12 _ x 20
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Roger and Katherine Woodman, 1982.192
 
11. Farmhouse on Great Chebeague Island, Casco Bay, 1888
oil on canvas
13 x 25
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Morton C. Bradley, Jr., 1969.9
 
12. The Fletcher Family Homestead, 1865
oil on canvas
{measurements}
Lent by the Family of William V. K. Fletcher II
 
13. Fog at White Head, after 1885
oil on canvas
14 x 25
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Haldeman Winant, 1992.33
 
14. Franconia Notch, undated
oil on canvas on masonite
12 15/16 x 10 13/16
Colby College Museum of Art. Gift of the Honorable Roderic H. D. Henderson, 1968.009
 
15. The Gull's Roost, circa 1879
oil on canvas
25 x 13 1/4
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Harriet B. Creager, 1923.9
 
16. Headlands, undated
oil on canvas
13 _ x 25
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mrs. John Hutchinson Hyde, 1961.9
 
17. The Heart of the Notch: White Mountains of New Hampshire, 1890
photogravure on wove paper
11 9/16 x 20 1/8 (image)
20 _ x 27 _ (paper)
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum purchase with support from Roger and Katherine Woodman, 1981.1102
 
18. Hull's Cove, Mt. Desert, 1864
oil on canvas
25 x 42
Bar Harbor Historical Society
 
19. Landscape at Sunset, undated
oil on canvas
8 _ x 18
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mrs. John C. A. Brady, 1965.1
 
20. Mominy, 1854
oil on canvas
26 x 36
Colby College Museum of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ellerton M. Jette, 1965.024
 
21. Mount Washington from Frankenstein, 1890
photolithograph on paper
12 _ x 19 _ (image)
14 9/16 x 21 7/16 (paper)
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum collection, P44
 
22. Mt. Washington from the Intervale, 1860s
oil on canvas
13 x 28 _
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Earl McSherry Hyde, Jr., Bethesda, Maryland, 2000.55.2
 
23. Natural Pool, 1860s
oil on canvas
12 _ x 24 _
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Elizabeth B. Noyce, 1996.38.5
 
24. Norlands Homestead, Livermore, Maine, circa 1883
oil on canvas
30 x 58
Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1983, 83.8
 
25. Nova Scotia Headlands, 1867
oil on canvas
13 x 24 7/8
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Harriet B. Creager, 1923.8
 
26. A Recollection of Italy: View of Isola Bella from Stresa, circa 1880
oil on canvas
15 1/16 x 28
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Roger and Katherine Woodman, 1967.1
 
27. Saco River, Maine, 1865
oil on canvas
11 _ x 19 _
Collection of Barbara and Seth Rosenzweig
 
28. Sailing on Casco Bay, undated
oil on canvas
13 1/8 x 25 1/8
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum Purchase, Drummond Memorial Fund, 1982.178
 
29. Seascape, circa 1860­1880
oil on ivory
2 _ x 4
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Elizabeth B. Noyce, 1996.38.6
 
30. Sketching Party in a Grove, undated
oil on canvas
18 x 14
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mrs. John Hutchinson Hyde, 1961.6
 
31. Shore at Kennebunkport Near Blowing Cove, undated
oil on canvas
13 x 25
Lent by Dan and Anna Fitzgerald
 
32. Standing Rocks, undated
oil on canvas
13 _ x 25
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mrs. John Hutchinson Hyde, 1961.8
 
33. Tuckerman's Ravine from the Glen Road, 1880
oil on canvas
25 x 30
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Earl McSherry Hyde, Jr., Bethesda, Maryland, 2000.55.1
 
34. Untitled Marine with Disabled French Ship, undated
oil on board
13 3/8 x 9 1/8
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Henry E. Olsen Jr. in memory of Blanche L. Wheeler Olsen, 1977.153
 
35. Untitled [possibly the Jungfrau from the Kleine Scheidigg], 1866
oil on canvas
25 x 42
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mrs. Louis L. Hills, Jr. in memory of Mrs. Louis L. Hills , Sr. and Mr. Louis L. Hills, Jr., 1973.20
 
36. Untitled [river dam & train trestle], circa 1885­1890
oil on canvas
23 x 16
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Raymond Demers, 1985.322
 
37. Untitled, circa 1890s
oil on canvas
49 1/2 x 33 3/4
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum purchase with support from the Director's and Curators' Hamill Acquisition Fund, 2006.5.1
 
38. Untitled [White Head, Cushing Island], circa 1890s
oil on canvas
50 x 34
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum purchase with support from the Director's and Curators' Hamill Acquisition Fund, 2006.5.2
 
39. Untitled Landscape, 1880s
oil on canvas
12 x 20
Lent by Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.
 
40. View of Captain John Brown Coyle's House, before 1861
oil on board
28 _ x 42 _
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of the estate of Blanche Coyle Newhall, 1973.21
 
41. View of Isola Dei Pescatori from Stresa, 1880
oil on canvas
30 1/16 x 22 1/16
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum purchase with support from Roger and Katherine Woodman, 1986.13
 
42. View of the F.O.J. Smith House, Portland, 1880­81
oil on canvas
18 x 30
Lent by the City of Portland, 2.1977.2
 
43. View of the Forest City Sugar Refinery, Portland, from Across the Fore River, circa 1860
oil on canvas
13 x 24 1/8
Lent by The City of Portland, 2.1977.3
 
44. View of Welch Mountain, New Hampshire, 1863
oil on canvas
11 7/8 x 20 _
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Morton C. Bradley, Jr., 1976.229
 
 
Archival/Ephemeral Material
 
1. letter from Harrison Bird Brown, London, to G. W. Morris, Portland, dated Jan (or Jun) 18, no year (but post-1893). Portland Museum of Art object files.
 
2. brochure produced for the inaugural exhibition of the Museum's L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, dedicated April 22, 1911. Portland Museum of Art archives.
 
3. E. H. Elwell, Portland and Vicinity, 1876 (illustrations by Harrison Bird Brown)
Lent by Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.
 
4. White Head, circa 1893
postcard
G. W. Morris, publisher
Lent by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission
 
5. The Heart of the Notch, White Mountains, N.H., circa 1890
postcard
G. W. Morris, publisher
Lent by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission
 
6. Conant (photographer, Portland, Maine)
Harrison B. Brown, Artist, 1874
photograph
Lent by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission
 
7. Nine sketchbooks, Portland Museum of Art. Gift of the family of Ethel Burrowes Morton, 1989.30.1-9

 

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy an image of Lake Maggiore including Isola Bella from the TFAO photo library.

Read more information, articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Portland Museum of Art in Resource Library.


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