( 1847-1920 )

Richard Norris Brooke

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Born in Warrenton, Virginia, Richard Norris Brooke displayed an early affinity for art. After the Civil War thwarted his plans for a European education, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1865, studying under Edmund Bonsall and James Lambdin. Brooke subsequently taught at several schools in the Philadelphia area before holding a brief tenure as Chair of Fine Arts at the Virginia Military Institute (1871-1872). From 1873 until 1876, he served as U.S. consul at La Rochelle, France and later studied under Benjamin Constant and Leon Bonnat in Paris. On his return to the United States, he settled in Washington, D.C. and painted two well received genre pictures of African American life, The Pastoral Visit (1880; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and Dog Swap (1881; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.).

Brooke's interest in black genre subjects was successful but short-lived. After 1881, he devoted himself almost entirely to landscape painting, forming the Washington landscape school with William Holmes, Edmund Messer, James Moser, Max Weyl, and others. Inspired by the French Barbizon masters and their Dutch and American followers (many of whom were represented in the Thomas E. Waggaman Collection begun by Brooke in 1882), the group recorded the fast-fading Arcadian beauties of the capital, especially around Rock Creek Park and along the Potomac. In later years, Brooke shared studio space with Max Weyl in what were known as the "Barbizon Studios" near the White House, while living with his nephew in Warrenton.

In 1893, renowned genre painter and teacher Thomas Hovenden exhibited Bringing Home the Bride at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition to great acclaim. That same year, perhaps in response to Hovenden’s canvas and its widespread popularity, Brooke painted a large genre scene titled The Home Bringing (location unknown). In it, Brooke substituted a black cast of characters for the white subjects of Hovenden’s work, seating them at a large wooden table, surrounded by family and friends. It was the artist’s most ambitious African American picture since Dog Swap and, like the earlier work, was intended to show that blacks shared common experiences with whites, both individually and as family units.

Brooke was especially active in Washington area arts organizations, including the Art Students League of Washington, Washington Art Club, and Society of Washington Artists. He served as vice principal of the Corcoran School of Art and exhibited extensively at that institution.

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This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.


For more information on this artist and work, please contact us.

This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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