John George Brown

At the dawn of the twentieth century, J.G. Brown (American, 1831-1913) was America's richest and best-known genre painter. His fame and fortune rested largely on his depictions of New York street children, which he focused on from the mid-1870s. Recalling the youthful protagonists in the rags-to-riches novels of Horatio Alger, Brown's sentimental portrayals of plucky newsboys and bootblacks proved immensely popular among wealthy American collectors. A shrewd businessman himself, by 1900 he was earning $40,000 a year from painting sales and royalties from lithographic reproductions.

Born and raised in England, Brown trained in a glass-cutting factory in Newcastle-on-Tyne, though he took evening art classes both in Newcastle and, later, at the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh. In 1853, following a brief stint in London as a portrait painter, he sailed for America and settled in Brooklyn. By 1860 he had moved to New York and secured working space in the newly opened Tenth Street Studio Building, the city's most prestigious atelier. In New York Brown turned to genre painting. Both the precise, descriptive realism of his genre images and their emphasis on narrative anecdote can be traced in part to the paintings of David Wilkie and the Pre-Raphaelites, whose work he had studied in England. He was also influenced by the paintings of American Pre-Raphaelites such as Charles Herbert Morse.