Mather Brown
American painter



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Mather Brown
American painter
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Date of Birth

~ October 1761

Place of Birth

Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Date of Death

May 25, 1831

Place of Death

London, United Kingdom

More about Mather Brown

gstecyk's picture


Mather Brown was a teenaged wine salesman who painted the “Addams” family...ok, not that “Addams” family. 

Born in Boston to the long Mather line of puritanical religious bigots, Brown was raised by his staunchly British loyalist aunts. Gilbert Stuart taught him to draw as a child, and at age 16 he set out on a walking tour of upstate New York selling wine and painting portraits.

This adventure financed his trip to Europe to study under Anglo-American artist Benjamin West. In England, Brown painted John and Abigail Adams (John was then ambassador to Britain following the American Revolution), and their daughter Nabby. Nabby wrote of the sittings, “A rage for Painting has taken Possession of the Whole family!...He [Mather Brown] has a good likeness of Momma.” For his own part, John Adams thought Brown caught his daughter’s characteristic “drollery and modesty.” This led to a commission to paint Thomas Jefferson (the earliest known image of the future president), who exchanged portraits with Adams. Another of his notable American portraits was of fellow artist John Singleton Copley’s mother.

Brown was the first American to study in the Royal Academy, and painted several members of the British Royal Family. In particular, he was official painter to King George III’s son, Prince Frederick Augustus, Duke of York. He also painted well received scenes from history and Shakespeare’s plays.

Brown painted one of the most important people you’ve never heard of, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Saint-Georges was an Afro-Caribbean black champion fencer and classical musician, who was an acquaintance of Mozart and composed several operas and symphonies. Brown’s portrait of Saint-George is not among his most iconic, but is historically important as one of the earliest Western depictions of a black person as handsome, socially prominent and independently successful. You can see a reproduction in the National Portrait Gallery London.

Brown’s meteoric rise to fame was short-lived. By the end of his life, he was penniless, with warehouses full of unsold art, borrowing money from his aunts and dying in obscurity. He could not have known that the young, scrappy, and hungry colonial rebels he painted would one day hang in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in the capital of the most powerful nation on Earth. They certainly didn't throw away their shot. It was the old, old story of the artist; death before success. At least he kept both his ears.




  1. “Portraits in Revolution: Mather Brown,” accessed January 14, 2017,
  2. Phyllis Lee Levin, Abigail Adams (Thomas Dunne Books, An Imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 2001), 272-273.
  3. “Thomas Jefferson,” accessed January 14, 2017,
  4. “National Gallery of Art: Brown, Mather,” accessed January 14, 2017,
  5. Gabriel Banat, The Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow (Pentagon Press, 2006), 171.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Mather Brown

Mather Brown (baptized October 11, 1761 – May 25, 1831) was a portrait and historical painter, born in Boston, Massachusetts, but active in England.

Brown was the son of Gawen and Elizabeth (Byles) Brown, and descended from the Rev. Increase Mather on his mother's side. He was taught by his aunt and around 1773 (age 12) became a pupil of Gilbert Stuart. He arrived in London in 1781 to further his training in Benjamin West's studio, entered the Royal Academy schools in 1782 with plans to be a miniature painter, and began to exhibit a year later.

In 1784, he painted two religious paintings for the church of St. Mary’s-in-the-Strand, which led Brown to found a partnership with the painter Daniel Orme for the commercialization of these and other works through exhibition and the sale of engravings. Among these were large paintings of scenes from English history, as well as scenes from Shakespeare's plays. However, despite their success he began to concentrate on portraiture. His first successes were with American sitters, among others his patron John Adams and family in 1784–85; this painting is now in the Boston Athenæum. In the spring of 1786, he began painting the earliest known portrait of Thomas Jefferson, who was visiting London. He also painted Charles Bulfinch the same year. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1798.

His 1788 full-length portrait of Prince Frederick Augustus in the uniform of Colonel of the Coldstream Guards led to appointment as History and Portrait Painter to the Prince, later the Duke of York and Albany. Other paintings include the Prince of Wales, later George IV (about 1789), Queen Charlotte, and Cornwallis. A self-portrait now belongs to the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.

A falling off of patronage in the mid-1790s, and failure to be elected to the Royal Academy, led Brown to leave London in 1808 for Bath, Bristol, and Liverpool. He settled in Manchester, returning to London almost two decades later, in 1824, where, even after West's death, he continued to imitate his teacher's style of painting. Unable to secure commissions, Brown eventually died in poverty in London.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Mather Brown.