William Mason Brown

(1828-1898)

Brown was one of the leading American still-life painters of the 19th century. He was born in Troy, New York where he studied with the ornamental painter Thomas Grinnell and the portraitist Abel Buel Moore. After living in Newark, New Jersey, from 1850-1858, he settled permanently in Brooklyn, New York. Early in his career Brown was active as a portrait and landscape painter, but in the early 1860s still life became his dominant interest. In New York, Brown quickly established a reputation for his still lifes, and his fame spread nationally through the circulation of chromolithographs produced by William Schaus and others.

Brown pictured fruit in indoor as well as outdoor settings. His works are characteristically meticulous in handling and nearly photographic in finish. Here he inventively places a bowl of strawberries atop a book featuring the songs and poems of the Scottish Romantic poet Robert Burns, which, in turn, is exquisitely reflected on the surface of the polished wood tabletop. A contemporary art writer remarked that Brown’s “fruit pictures are the best ever painted by an American artist, and must always occupy a very high position as still-life pictures. . . . His color is always good, and his compositions, whether in fruit pieces or landscapes, always graceful and engaging to the eye” (George Harrison, “The Fine Arts in Brooklyn,” Henry D. Stiles, ed., History of Kings County, including the City of Brooklyn [New York: W. W. Munsell & Co., 1884]: 1149).