Artwork by Peleg Franklin Brownell,  Les devoirs (Homework)

Franklin Brownell
Les devoirs (Homework)

oil on canvas
signed upper left
12 x 15 ins ( 30.5 x 38.1 cms )

Auction Estimate: $9,000.00$7,000.00 - $9,000.00

Price Realized $28,800.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Private Collection
“Franklin Brownell Retrospective Exhibition”, Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, Montreal, 29 September‒13 October 2007
“Canadian Art: A Child’s World,” Annual Loan Exhibition, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 28 October 28‒11 November 2017, no. 6
“Our Children: Reflections of Childhood in Historical Canadian Art”, Varley Art Gallery of Markham, 13 April‒23 June 23 2019
Genre painting, or scenes of everyday life, has occupied a central role in Western art from Dutch painting in the 17th century onwards. This painting is another example of Franklin Brownell’s ability to capture a quiet domestic moment within a complex structural arrangement. The chiaroscuro effect of light and shadows, the recording of figures from both the front and back, and the still life arrangement on the windowsill, all speak to an artist of virtuosity and dedication. Certainly this work echoes Brownell’s training at the Academie Julian, which not only provided the technical skills required of a successful artist, but also taught its pupils how to achieve commercial success in a limited art market. One of the most important outcomes of the Academie Julian’s existence was its success in opening up artistic training to women in 1880, with the result that by 1885, the school had four hundred female students. In this and other works, Brownell elucidates the power of education for both young men and women. Much work still remains to be done in understanding the changing dynamics of genre painting in Canadian life at the end of the nineteenth century, but this work is surely a key piece in attempting to understand how social and gender roles were evolving, both for patrons, and for the artists themselves.

We extend our thanks to Jim Burant, art historian and curator, for contributing the preceding essay.

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Peleg Franklin Brownell
(1857 - 1946) RCA, OSA

Peleg Franklin Brownell was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in July 1857, and studied at the Tufts School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, before going to Paris to study at the Academie Julian under Tony Robert-Fleury, Adolphe-William Bouguereau and Leon Bonnat. He remained in Paris until at least 1883, and then he returned to the United States, living first in New Bedford, and then in New York. He had met Canadian artist Willliam Brymner in Paris in 1881, before Brymner returned to Canada to become the principal of the Ottawa Art School. After both Brymner and his successor as the school’s principal, Charles Moss, moved elsewhere, Brownell was hired as the Ottawa Art School’s third principal in 1887, remaining in the position until the school’s closure in 1899. From 1900 until the school was revived in the early 1920s, he taught under the auspices of the Woman's Art Association of Ottawa. He finally retired from teaching in 1937, having taught many well-known and lesser well-known Canadian artists, including Frank Hennessey, Pegi Nicol MacLeod, and Henri Masson.

Once settled in Ottawa, Brownell rapidly established himself in Canadian art circles, becoming an associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1895, and a full member in 1895. He was also a member of the Ontario Society of Arts from 1899 to 1907, when he left that organization to help found the rival Canadian Art Club. His early work included Lamplight, an 1892 domestic scene which was exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, which was purchased by the RCA and presented to the National Gallery of Canada. His RCA diploma work, The Photographer, became part of the National Gallery’s collection in 1896. Brownell, although known as a painter of Ottawa and its environs, also painted in the West Indies, the US, the lower St. Lawrence, and the Gaspé. Although well-known for his landscapes, he produced portraits, flower studies, marine and genre scenes in oil, watercolour and pastel. He exhibited widely, in the annual exhibitions of several art associations, including the RCA, OSA, and the Art Association of Montreal; at more than a dozen exhibitions held at James Wilson & Co. Art Gallery in Ottawa from 1900 onwards; and in such international exhibitions as the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, the 1900 Paris World's Fair, the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, St Louis, 1904, and the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley, England, in 1924-25. His work is to be found in most major Canadian art galleries, as well as in many private collections.

Brownell remains an elusive figure, as there is little evidence available in the form of diaries and correspondence to enable an art historian to learn more about his outlook or artistic philosophy. William Brymner described him as “a nice sort of cove” in 1881, and his firm friendships with many artists, collectors, and connoisseurs, most notably Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery of Canada from 1910 to 1939, attest to a likeable and well-respected man. On his death in March 1946, he was described as “a shy, retiring man” who was “one of the soundest artists in Canada”.

We extend our thanks to Jim Burant, Canadian Art Academic, for contributing this biography.