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Modern Abstract painting by American, Byron Browne, titled "Two Heads" - Painting by Byron Browne
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Byron Browne
Modern Abstract painting by American, Byron Browne, titled "Two Heads"

1947

About

Byron Browne was an American abstract artist and influential advocate for the avant-garde movements of the 1930s. During his lifetime, his work was shown in major museums and galleries including the Museum of Modern Art, NY and the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C. Browne was an extremely versatile artist. He won notoriety for both his representational and nonrepresentational styles, examples of which hang on the walls of the world’s most respected museums. Emerging from a traditional education in the visual arts, Byron Browne became one the foremost American avant-garde artists of the twentieth century. Browne was born in Yonkers, NY in 1907. His childhood was fairly typical for a middle-class suburban family of the time. At the age of seventeen, Browne enrolled at the National Academy of Design in New York City where he received a traditional, classical training in academic painting. He studied with Charles Hinton, Charles Hawthorne, Charles Courtney Curran, Ivan Olinsky, Robert Aitken and Alice Murphy. From 1924 until he graduated in 1928, Browne won every major prize the Academy offered, including the coveted Hallgarten prize. He was the youngest student to win the prize in 103 years. Upon graduation, he continued to paint in a traditional representational style but quickly abandoned it in favor of the modernist aesthetic inspired by his friend Arshile Gorky. In 1933, the Eighth Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village presented Browne’s first solo exhibition. Little is known about the works he exhibited, but scholars such as April J. Paul assume that they were cubist-inspired paintings and sculpture. By the early 1930s Browne was fully committed to modernism. In 1935 he began to study under Hans Hofmann and subsequently was chosen to exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition, “Abstract Painting in America.” Sometime between 1927 and the Eighth Street Playhouse exhibition in 1933, he destroyed all of the traditional paintings that he had done, including work that had earned him prizes in group exhibitions across the city. From that moment until the early 1940s, Browne worked in the modernist style characterized by highly-structural geometric abstraction, biomorphism, expressionism, and cubism. He had his first one-man exhibition at the New School for Social Research in New York in 1936. The art world of the 1930s was not set apart from the rising unemployment that swept the country during the Great depression. Browne, along with a host of other artists, joined the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP, 1933-1934) in response to the waning number of private commissions and large-scale gallery shows. In 1935, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Federal Art Project (FAP, 1935-1943) succeeded the PWAP. Browne’s works for these projects included murals for the WNYC Radio and TV Broadcasting Station in the Municipal Building as well as for the U.S. Passport Office. As Browne continued to work for the WPA/FAP throughout the 1930s, he was also exhibiting in major museums and galleries across the country. He, among other artists (including his future wife Rosalind Benglesdorf whom he married in 1940) formed the American Abstract Artists (AAA) in 1936. The AAA was a group of avant-garde artists living in New York that pushed for the acceptance and exhibition of abstract art at a time when popular art was characterized by the Regionalist style of artists like Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. With the help of the AAA, Browne remained at the forefront of American abstraction exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Museum of Modern Art in NY, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in NY. Browne gained even more popularity during the 1940s as he exhibited paintings across the country. His later career is marked by his return to representational art and his passion for teaching. He was an instructor at the Art Students League from 1948 until 1959, and in 1959 he began teaching Advanced Painting Technique at New York University where he remained until his death in 1961. The work that Browne produced later in life is characterized by an experimental technique applied to representation which resulted in a highly dramatic and expressionistic style. Retrospectives of his work were held at the Art Students League and at the Grand Central Gallery immediately following his death. SELECTED MUSEUMS Art Institute of Chicago (Untitled (1951)) Brooklyn Museum of Art (Variations from a Still-life (1936–37/reworked 1951)) Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (Painting (1936)) Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia (Untitled (1957); Two Figures (1946–47); Portrait of Milton Avery (1959)) Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University (Weight Lifter (1945) (gouache)) Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens (Figure by the Seashore (1943)) Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire (Monolith (1951)) Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester (Dancing (1947)) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (The Muses) Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, Utica, New York (Rope and Branches (1945); Toto the Drummer (1952)) Museum of Modern Art, New York (Homage to Michelangelo; Girl with Bows; Untitled from American Abstract Artists (1937) (lith.))

Details

  • Dimensions
    H 30 in. x W 36 in. x D 2 in.H 76.2 cm x W 91.44 cm x D 5.08 cm
  • Gallery Location
    Washington, DC
  • Reference Number
    LU123825363831
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