Charles Francis Browne, the noted Chicago-based landscapist, teacher and critic, was born in Natick, Massachusetts, in 1859. His family moved to nearby Waltham in 1865 and it was there that Browne received his early education. He developed an interest in art during his boyhood, often painting and sketching on his own. His desire to pursue and artistic career was given further impetus when as a youth he saw and was greatly influenced by J.M.W. Turner's Slave Ship, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
At his family's request, Browne spent several years working as a junior merchant in Boston. He did not begin his formal training as an artist until 1882, when he enrolled in night classes at the Boston Museum School. By day, he worked in a lithographic firm, where he befriended another art student, Edmund C. Tarbell. He continued his studies in Boston until 1884. In the following year he travelled to Philadelphia, where he worked under Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts until the spring of 1887. While in Philadelphia, he was introduced to the doctrines of the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, whose spiritualism exerted an important effect on him. Browne spent the summer of 1887 studying landscape painting with Abbott Thayer in Boston. In the fall he went to France, where he completed two years of tutelage under Jean-Leon Gerome and A.F.A. Schenck.
Browne returned to America in 1891. By 1892, he was in Chicago, preparing mural decorations for the Children's Building at the World's Fair. After a short period of teaching at Beloit College he was invited to join the faculty of the Chicago Art Institute, serving as both an instructor and lecturer for many years.
In addition to his teaching activity, Browne was a highly successful landscapist. Although he painted throughout Illinois, he was particularly fond of the area in and around Oregon, where he and many other Chicago artists spent their summers. At various times in his career he also painted in the Seine Valley, Southern California, and along the Scottish coast.
Browne was also very much involved as a critic and writer, serving as a reviewer of exhibitions for the Chicago Sunday Tribune for many years. In addition, he helped to found the Brush and Pencil Club (as well as editing their journal, Brush and Pencil) and was a member of the Chicago Society of Artists and the Western Society of Artists. Along with Hamlin Garland and Lorado Taft, he produced the influential pamphlet Impressions on Impressionism in 1894. At the time his own stylistic venue was based on a Barbizon-inspired Tonalism and as a result, his views towards the new aesthetic were essentially conservative. However after the turn-of-the-century, he adopted various aspects of Impressionism into his oeuvre. A 1904 trip to Scotland, where he came into contact with the Glasgow School, as well as a journey to France were important to his later interest in soft colors, generalized forms, and effects of light and atmosphere.
Charles Francis Browne died in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1920. Representative examples of his work can be found at the Art Institute of Chicago, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Waltham Historical Society as well as in many private collections.
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