Harrison Bird Brown was a widely recognized 19th century marine and landscape painter. Born in Portland in 1831 and orphaned at an early age, he was apprenticed to a house and ship painting firm. His best work dates from the 1860’s and early 70’s when his style was delicate and detailed and his colors rich and vibrant.
His creativity appeared in the drawings and paintings on the walls of the shop where he worked. Following his apprenticeship, he opened a business as a “sign and fancy painter” doing “oil graining, imitations of woods and marbles executed in the neatest manner.” As a sideline at first, he produced landscapes and portraits, encouraged by Portland’s art critic, John Neal. Brown soon focused on the depiction of nature and was first listed in the Portland Reference Book in 1858 as a landscape painter. Between 1858 and 1860 five of his pictures, borrowed from their owners, were shown at the National Academy of Design in New York. He was the only Maine artist of his day to exhibit there.
As his career became established he acquired many pupils, including the sculptor Franklin Simmons and the animal painter, Scott Leighton. Brown’s output was large because he depended on the sale of his paintings for an income to support the fairly high standard of living which his family seemed to demand. His best work dates from the 1860’s and early 70’s when his style was delicate and detailed and his colors rich and vibrant. Some of his later work had the feeling of studio potboilers. He was perhaps best known as a marine painter and his painting of White Head on Monhegan Island was exhibited in the Maine pavilion of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. In 1892 Brown moved with his family from Portland to London where he died in 1915.
Portland’s 1861 Harrison B. Brown House is an informal example of the Italianate style. A two story ell in the rear contains a studio with large floor to ceiling windows overlooking Portland Harbor. Outside access is by a curving stairway.
Maine. Historic Preservation Commission. Augusta, Me. Text edited and condensed from National Register of Historic Places: http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/text/80000227.PDF.