Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Brownie" Mostly Worked in Black & White

I exaggerated when writing the title of this post, but not very much. Arthur William Brown (1881-1966) spent much of his career not making color oil paintings for magazine covers, but instead did interior illustrations that were usually printed in black and white in those days when color printing was expensive.

Currently, there is little biographical information about Brown on the Internet, though you might consider linking here and here. There's more about him in books dealing with illustrators such as Fred Taraba's fairly recent Masters of American Illustration.

It seems that Brownie (as he was known by his illustrator and other friends) was an early adopter of reference photographs. This was influenced by his slow, careful approach to creating what look to be quickly-done illustrations. (They appear quickly-done because he mostly worked in crayon, pencil and washes that seem less substantial than illustrations done using oil paints.)

What interests me is that he was good at capturing facial expressions and character. How much of this was the product of the photos he took and how much was conscious deviations from the photographic images? I am not aware of any surviving reference photos from the 1920s and 30s that can be compared to the finished works they were used for, so perhaps that matter can't be resolved. Given that Brownie was highly skilled, I'll assume he used his photos as the starting point and didn't copy them slavishly.

Brownie was good, successful, and popular socially. Still, I place him a fraction of a notch below the likes of F.R. Gruger and Henry Patrick Raleigh who used similar media in their illustration work.


Brownie with his fancy new 1927 Packard. He made a lot of money in the 1920s, but was badly hit in the 1929 stock market crash.

A publicity photo of Brownie at work in the mid-1940s.

Another publicity shot. Here he and Russell Patterson are sketching Florence Kallender in tony Palm Beach Florida, 1947. Brownie was perfectly capable of sketching, but as was mentioned above, he normally used reference photos.

Greta Garbo, done in 1937.

Note Brownie's skill in depicting facial expressions.

A 1920s story illustration.

Illustration for a 1930 Saturday Evening Post story.

1937 story illustration.

A Post illustration from 1935.

By the 1940s, two-color magazine interior printing was common, so Brownie adjusted.  Some other two-color illustrations are seen above.  The first also is from the early 1940s and the next was done in 1937, as noted.


Anonymous said...

People keep posting that drawing by Arthur William Brown and saying the model is Greta Garbo. It is not. It is an English actress/model born Irene Needham who went by the stage name, Sandra Storme. In fact, Mr. Brown can be seen pretending to work on that drawing in a scene from the 1937 Jack Benny film, "Artists and Models," 17 seconds into this clip hosted on the TCM website:

Donald Pittenger said...

Anonymous -- I know from long experience that one has to be careful regarding images found on the Internet. Even where a painting and its artist are correctly named, for instance, its date might be wrong. Because I post 25 or so images per week on this blog and maybe another 10 or 15 on the other one, plus leading a life, I can't check everything. So if what I find seems reasonable and has some corroboration, I'l go with it. Such was the case for the image you mention. The woman Brownie drew looks like she could have been Garbo, so I had little motivation to dig deeper.

I appreciate you input. And keep your eyes open for other problematic captions.