(1918 - 1958)
George Browne was
recognized in the mid-1950s as a sporting artist of the first
rank, the ascendant star among American wildlife painters of
his generation. His oils of waterfowl and upland game birds in
flight were compared favorably to the works of Frank Benson
and Ogden Pleissner, and his paintings of big game animals, to
those of Carl Rungius.
Every painting he completed sold quickly, and his dealers were
continually pleading for more of his pictures to satisfy the
demands of their customers. Browne was talented and skilled
and versatile; and as he was a sportsman who knew his subjects
from lifelong experience, his pictures had authenticity. He
was, furthermore, dedicated to his craft, a painter who worked
constantly and conscientiously to improve his technique. Then,
in the spring of 1958, at the age of forty, he was killed in a
shooting accident, and a brilliant and most promising career
was abruptly ended.
Odd though it may seem, George Browne and his remarkable work
were virtually forgotten in the years following his tragic
death. As all of his paintings had been sold, dealers had
nothing to offer; and the individuals who owned Browne’s works
held onto them and passed them on as family heirlooms. He had
painted only a few more than 200 pictures in the decade in
which he worked as a professional artist. Only rarely did any
pictures come on the market; consequently and ironically,
because his paintings were so highly regarded by those who
owned them, his name was not before the public.
For the first time in thirty-five years people had an
opportunity to learn about George Browne and to see
reproductions of his paintings when in 1933, Sporting Classics
published an informative and insightful article by Tom Davis,
which served to reintroduce this remarkable painter and his
work. Davis titled his essay "George Browne: the Greatest
Wildlife Artist That Most People Never Heard Of." "Those who
have heard of Browne, and who know his luminous work," Davis
wrote, "amount to a handful of astute dealers and collectors.
To a person, they are in unanimous agreement that, had the
fates granted Browne a normal lifespan…he would be regarded as
one of the few legitimate masters of the wildlife genre."
Davis quotes Francis Lee Jaques, who was certainly a
"legitimate master of the wildlife genre": "I fear I was a
little jealous of George Browne’s work, as I don’t believe I
was of any other artist. His work was a breakthrough. It was
different – and better." That’s what we lost when George
Browne was killed in 1958.