Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Richard Lonsdale Brown (1892-1917)

The story of Richard Lonsdale Brown's life is--like the story of all lives--one of triumph and sadness. It's a story of a young and very talented artist, determined to make his way in the art world despite his humble origins and the view society had of people of color. He was born on August 25, 1892, in Evansville, Indiana. It would appear that his father was an itinerant tradesman, a bricklayer and construction worker who went where there were jobs. Nineteen hundred found the family in Pittsburgh. They later took up residence in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where Brown spent most of his youth. In his late teens, he attended the Charleston Institute, a trade school in which he learned the skills and techniques of house painting, graduating in 1910. West Virginia proved an inspiration to the young artist, and he began creating impressionistic watercolor landscapes of his father's home state.

At the age of seventeen, Brown ventured from home, pursuing his art career in Pittsburgh before moving on to New York City. He approached numerous art galleries in New York with no success. His youth, inexperience, and color blocked his entry into the mainstream art community. In the spring of 1911, Brown, penniless and in search of affirmation, arrived on the doorstep of an established artist, George de Forest Brush (1855-1941), and asked him to review his work. Brush was impressed and took Brown under his wing. That summer, thanks to a scholarship from the NAACP, Brown studied under Brush at the art colony at Cornish, New Hampshire, and returned with him to New York in the fall. In March 1912, he had a very successful solo exhibition at the Ovington Gallery. He produced illustrations and cover art for The Crisis magazine, and in May 1913, won a bronze medal in the city’s National Academy of Design show. 

The artistic passion and desire for learning that delivered Brown to New York next carried him to Boston, where he continued his studies and paid his way by painting houses. He painted the Robert Gould Shaw House, and while there, produced illustrations for The Crisis as well as civil rights posters, commissioned by W.E.B. Du Bois, the founder of the NAACP. Then, Brown's life took a turn that we--a century later--can only wonder about: He inexplicably abandoned his artistic pursuits on the East Coast and returned home to his parents, moving with them to Muskogee, Oklahoma, in the winter of 1916. It was in Muskogee, in the fall or early winter of 1917, that Brown died at the age of twenty-five, from an "incurable illness," possibly pneumonia. According to an auction website, only three known works by Richard Lonsdale Brown survive. I would suggest that the inextinguishable spirit of the artist also survives.

"An Indian Mound" (ca. 1914), a watercolor by Indiana artist Richard Lonsdale Brown.
"Mount Monadnock" (1911), a work in gouache of a prominence in New Hampshire, where Brown studied with George de Forest Brush at the Cornish art colony.
Brown was also an illustrator, creating work for The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP under the editorship of W.E.B. DuBois. Here is his cover for the Easter number, April 1912.

Trivia: It's interesting to note that Brown, a painter of landscapes, found benefactors in two men with names having similar meanings: de Forest and DuBois.

Written by Bridget Hanley, Proficient Pen, and Terence E. Hanley
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment