Frederick Brown (1851-1941)
Frederick Brown (1851-1941)

Grandma's Comfort

Details
Frederick Brown (1851-1941)
Grandma's Comfort
signed and dated 'FRED BROWN/1883' (lower right) and signed and dated again 'FRED BROWN 73 EDITH GROVE LONDON/SW/Aug 1883' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
26 x 19 in. (66 x 48 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Louis Taylor Auctions, Stoke-on-Trent, 17 March 2009.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 15 July 2009, lot 64.

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Lot Essay

In June 1883 two men boarded a train from Dieppe to Paris and in the course of conversation discovered that they were both art students. One was the Canadian painter, William Brymner, and the other, 'a very nice sort of a fellow 31 years of age and very easy to get on with', Fred Brown. From his letters to his parents we learn that the two quickly became friends. Brown, the more experienced, had recently shown An Impromptu Dance, a picture of children dancing to the music of a street organ, at the Royal Academy, and he was now bound for further study at the Atelier Julian. But before the rentrée, he and Brymner would spend two months together, painting en plein air in the French countryside. They resolved to explore Burgundy and in the third week of July settled in the village of Pontaubert.

By mid-August, Brymner was reporting to his father that Brown and he had found local models and were painting, 'an old woman called Mariana [who] tells us very often that she is trop veille [sic] 86. She is bent nearly double. All the old women are frightfully bent. I think it must be the result of carrying such heavy loads in a basket they strap round their shoulders' (letter dated 13 August 1883).

This woman can now be identified as that in the present picture. Brown, like his mentor George Clausen, was clearly impressed by the work of Bastien-Lepage and may have been thinking of the theme of youth and age when he painted the picture of Mariana passing on an old doll to her granddaughter as 'Grandma's gift'. There was no searching for superficial prettiness with the model - but great tenderness in the relationship established between her and the child by her side. She is dressed in 'the sabots and blue dresses and aprons' that peasants in the region wore on weekdays, and which, according to Brymner, 'look at home and right'.

The two, joined by Clausen, were back in Paris by the end of September and by the following summer, Brown had returned to London to resume his evening classes at the Westminster School of Art where he had been teaching since 1877. He became a founding member of the New English Art Club in 1886 and a 'London Impressionist' in 1889, by which time Brymner and he were no longer in contact. He succeeded Alphonse Legros as Professor at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1892, where he quickly appointed Philip Wilson Steer and Henry Tonks. The present canvas is however, important evidence of his early days when the values of naturalistic reporting were much to the fore.
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