Henry Kirke Brown: The Father of American Sculpture : typescript

Biographical and Historical Notes

Henry Kirke Bush-Brown (1857-1935)

Henry Kirke Bush-Brown was the son of Caroline Bush (Lydia Brown's sister) and Robert W. Bush, but was adopted when he was very young by his aunt and uncle, Lydia Louise and Henry Kirke Brown, and raised at their Newburgh home. Bush-Brown began his sculptural studies with his uncle, then moved to New York to continue his art education at the National Academy of Design. For many years, Bush-Brown was a successful sculptor of portrait busts and public monuments, probably best known today for his equestrian bronzes of General George Meade (1896), General John F. Reynolds (1898), and General John Sedgwick (1913), all at Gettysburg, and his 1903 equestrian bronze monument of General Anthony Wayne at Valley Forge. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1910, and remained there until his death in 1935.

Sources

“Bush-Brown, Henry Kirke.” American National Biography Online. http://www.anb.org/articles/17/17-00126.html. (accessed December 12, 2008).

Henry Kirke Brown (1814-1886)

Henry Kirke Brown (1814-1886) was an American naturalist sculptor, producing sculptures and monuments in New York and Washnington, D.C.

H. K. Brown was born to farming parents, Elijah Brown and Rhoda Childsnear, in Leyden, Massachusetts, on February 24, 1814. He attended school at the Deerfield Academy until the age of eighteen. While a student at Deerfield, Brown demonstrated an aptitude for painting, and in 1832, he began to study art with successful Boston portrait painter Chester Harding.

In 1836, Brown moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and spent the next two years (1837-1838) painting portraits while living in an artists colony. During this period, he met Shobal Vail Clevenger, a sculptor who inspired Brown to switch from painting to sculpture. Brown returned to the East coast in 1839 and married Lydia Louise Udall. In 1842, Brown and his wife traveled to Italy, visiting Florence, Naples, and finally Rome, where Brown established a studio to pursue his sculptural studies. After four years in Italy, the Browns returned to the United States in 1846 and settled in New York City.

Following his sojourn in Italy, Brown rejected European neoclassicism, favoring naturalistic art and subjects that reflected American culture and values. When the American Art Union presented him with a commission for several small bronzes to be given as prizes, Brown decided to cast them himself and with the assistance of European bronze workers constructed a bronze foundry in his studio between 1846 and 1849. Thus, Brown was not only instrumental in bringing the techniques of bronze casting to America, he was also one of the first American sculptors to cast his own works in bronze.

In 1851, Brown established himself on the American art scene with his heroic bronze statue of Governor De Witt Clinton in Brooklyn's Greenwich Cemetery. That same year, he was honored by his peers with election to the National Academy of Design in New York. In 1856 he executed one of his most famous works, a bronze equestrian statue of George Washington for New York City's Union Square. During this period, he actively supported the establishment of a federal art commission composed of artists, rather than politicians, to oversee painting and sculpture projects in Washington, D.C. In 1859, President James Buchanan appointed Brown and two other artists to the newly-created National Art Commission. During this time, Brown also undertook a sculptural commission for the state capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina. This project was nearly completed when the Civil War brought work to a halt. The sculptures, still in Brown's workshop in Columbia, were destroyed by Gen. Sherman's troops in 1865.

After the Civil War, Brown received commissions for a number of major sculptural projects in New York and Washington. In 1868, Brown cast a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln for Union Square in New York, and he executed several statues and monuments for the nation's capital. These include statues of Nathanael Greene (1870), George Clinton (1873), Richard Stockton (1874), and Philip Kearny (1886) for National Statuary Hall in the Capitol building; an equestrian bronze of General Winfield Scott (1871) in Scott Circle; and an equestrian statue of General Nathanael Greene (1877) for Greene Square.

Following the death of his wife in 1879, Brown's own health began to fail, and he was no longer able to work. He died in 1886 in Newburgh, New York, where he had lived and maintained a studio since 1857.

Sources

Craven, Wayne. Sculpture in America.New and revised edition . Newark: University of Delaware; New York and London: Cornwall Books, 1984, pp.144-158.

“Brown, Henry Kirke.” American National Biography Online. http://www.anb.org/articles/17/17-00108.html. (accessed May 9, 2007).

Lydia Louise Brown (1810-1879)

Lydia Louise Brown was the eldest daughter of Judge James Udall, prominent member of the Vermont legislature, and Sophia Downer Champlin. Lydia and Henry met in 1836, while he was visiting her family in Hartford, Vermont, and they married on October, 28 1839. Lydia Brown died on December 10, 1879 at their home in Newburgh, New York, after a long illness.

Scope and Content Note

This collection comprises a carbon typescript for an unpublished manuscript titled "Henry Kirke Brown: The Father of American Sculpture," which was compiled, written, and edited by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, and an abridged version by the same title, also prepared by Bush-Brown. The manuscript contains a description of Henry Kirke Brown's life, transcripts of his correspondence, photographs of his homes and artistic works, poems, sketches, and a genealogical chart of the Brown family. Several original letters, poems, photographs, and art are tipped into the typescript; however, the bulk of the original letters Bush-Brown used for his transcriptions were destroyed in a fire.

This is one of three copies of the manuscript known to exist. The other two sets are located respectively in the Library of Congress (Henry Kirke Bush-Brown Papers) and Smith College (Bush-Brown Family Papers). Wayne Craven, H.F. du Pont Professor Emeritus of Art History, obtained this carbon typescript from Henry Kirke Bush-Brown's son, James, around 1975. At the time, Craven was planning to write a biography of Henry Kirke Brown, and the collection includes several pages of Craven's handwritten notes (F8, F13, F16).

The introduction and the first three chapters of the work offer an account of Brown’s early years. A genealogy of the Brown family is included in this section. The remaining volumes are made up mostly of full transcripts or extracts from Brown's correspondence with relatives, patrons, clients, colleagues, and governmental officials between 1836 and 1882. Correspondents include Chester Harding, William Cullen Bryant, James Buchanan, John Quincy Adams Ward, Shobal Vail Clevenger, Linus Yale, Sr., and others. A significant portion of the correspondence is between Brown and his wife Lydia Louise Brown. The Browns maintained a steady, frequent correspondence throughout their marriage. Even when together, as during their four-year stay in Italy, both of them wrote often to relatives and friends, providing an intimate, almost continuous narrative of their lives.

A few original handwritten letters are interspersed among the pages of the typescript manuscript, and in many cases, Bush-Brown included comments on the letters. Most of the letters are organized in chronological order and reflect significant periods of the artist’s life and career. Several chapters have overlapping dates, particularly those covering the years 1855-1862. Bush-Brown excerpted portions of his uncle's diary and illustrated the volumes with photographs of Brown's works. Many of the images are photoreproductions of Brown's sketches and studies, with a small number of original prints or drawings. The abridged version of the manuscript (F24-F29) includes information from chapters I-V, VII, X and XI, but contains only one illustration.

The dates of the letters span more than forty years, from around 1839 to 1882. They document private relations, domestic life, international travel, social change, and major cultural and political events such as the American Civil War and Reconstruction in the United States. This collection not only provides information about the life and career of the artist Henry Kirke Brown, it also offers a first-hand view of an important period in the cultural, social, and political history of the United States.