George de Forest Brush was an American painter. He became famous for his paintings of Indian life.
Brush was born in either Danbury, Connecticut or Shelbyville, Tennessee (depending on who you ask) on September 28, 1855. He was the second of three children and the younger of two sons. Alfred Clark Brush, his father, had moved west from Connecticut to work in a sawmill in Ohio. In Ohio he married George’s mother, Nancy Douglas. Her family had left southern New England after the decline of the whaling industry. Alfred was a restless man. He moved on from Ohio to Tennessee to practice dentistry, and in 1855 moved back to Connecticut. Nancy was an amateur painter and encouraged George and gave him rudimentary instruction at home when he showed an inclination for drawing.
George’s formal training began at the National Academy of Design in New York when he was sixteen. In 1872 he entered Jean- Léon Gérôme’s workshop in Paris. He studied there and then at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for almost six years. George was elected to the Society of American Artists not long after he returned to America in 1880. After he joined the society he spent a great deal of time traveling around the world to such places as Florence, New York, and Paris. In 1901 he traveled to Dublin, New Hampshire and purchased a farm.
He got his art instruction at the National Academy of New York and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He developed a very realistic style. On his return to the United States he traveled to Wyoming and Montana. In 1881 Brush lived in Montana and Wyoming where he observed Indian life. In Wyoming he lived with and painted the Arapahoe and Shoshone Indians. In Montana he lived with and painted the Crow Indians.
He first attained prominence painting Indian life. Based on the life and customs of the domestic tribes, in addition to paying strict attention to the strict documentary detail, George's pictures (concentrated on studies completed in situ, but completed in his studio), focus on traits derived by Gérôme and portrayed in the "Moose Chase", a painting of his made in 1888. George finished his first family portrait in the 1890s. The family group portraits are what he is best known for. Ultimately, his own family, including his wife and children were his subjects for these portraits. One example is his work from 1894 entitled, "Mother and Child". George was inspired by similar portraits because he felt they had a meaning of holiness without really centering around Christianity.
When he returned to the West he set up a studio in New York City. In 1885 he became an instructor at the Art Students’ League in portrait and figure painting. He taught there, with some interruptions, until 1898. On January 11, 1886 he eloped with one of his pupils, Mary (“Mittie”) Taylor Whelpley from Hastings, New York. Together they had eight children. These were: Alfred (who died as a baby), Gerome, Nancy, Tribbie, Georgia, Mary, Jane, and Thea. Gerome became a painter and sculptor and had modest success. Both Nancy and Mary became portrait painters. The family liked to travel and went to Europe often, especially Florence, Italy, between 1898 and 1914. In the summer they often stayed in New Hampshire where Brush bought a farm at Dublin in 1901.
Brush’s poetic Indian canvases brought him recognition but not much money. He shifted to other themes about 1890 to support his growing family. Brush tried to steer clear from the dramatized western scenes that were popular with his contemporaries. He instead chose to depict his Native American subjects as they were in everyday life. He returned to New York and found work as a teacher at the Art Students League. He then painted mother and child scenes that brought him commercial success. His own wife and children posed for these paintings. His most celebrated and possibly the finest of these was the circular “Mother and Child” in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts which was purchased in 1895 for $7,000. In the painting Mrs. Brush is shown in profile holding one of her infants, who smiles out at the viewer from under a halo of blond curls. An earlier picture in the series called “At the Fountain,” sold for $18,000 in 1920.
In Paris Brush studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme. Brush then became a member of the National Academy of Design, New York, and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Starting in 1883 he attracted a lot of attention with his paintings of Native Americans such as “Moose Hunt,” “Aztec King,” and “Mourning Her Brave”. These achieved him great popularity and showed the strong influence of his teacher, Gérôme. Picture portraits, especially of mother and child followed these. These were largely suggestive of the work of Dutch, Flemish, and German masters. They were arranged carefully and worked out in great detail.
Brush was sort of a solitary man by nature. He was a hard worker and perfectionist. He was the refined late-nineteenth-century gentleman. George Brush was a Christian but not a member of a church. He was proud and resistant to change.
In 1882 he was elected to the Society of American Artists. In 1888 he was made an Associate of the National Academy of Design and won its First Hallgarten Prize. In 1897 he received a gold medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Three years later, in 1900, he received one from Paris Exposition. In 1908 he won an Academician.
Brush’s later years were mostly spent in Dublin, New Hampshire. He died in Hanover, New Hampshire on April 24, 1941 at the age of eighty-five of bronchopneumonia. He was buried in the Dublin Town Cemetery.
Some of George DeForest Brush’s work can be viewed at: