Artwork by Peleg Franklin Brownell,  Tea Time

Franklin Brownell
Tea Time

oil on canvas laid on board
signed and dated 1901 centre left, signed and dated 1901 upper right
15.5 x 11.5 ins ( 39.4 x 29.2 cms )

Auction Estimate: $15,000.00$12,000.00 - $15,000.00

Price Realized $90,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

A.K. Prakash & Associates, Inc., Toronto
Acquired by the present Private Collection, May 2011
“Canada and Impressionism: New Horizons 1880‒1930”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; travelling to Kunsthalle der Hypo‒Kulturstiftung, Munich; Fondation de l’Hermitage, Lausanne; Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 19 July 2019‒3 July 2021, no. 64
Jim Burant and Robert Stacey, “North by South: The Art of Peleg Franklin Brownell, 1857-1946”, Ottawa Art Gallery, 1998, pages 29, 73, 82-84
Katerina Atanassova, “Canada and Impressionism: New Horizons 1880‒1930”, Ottawa, 2019, no. 64, reproduced page 188 as “Tea Time”
This exquisite portrait of his wife Louise by the Massachusetts-born Franklin Brownell, and who trained as an artist in Boston and Paris, is entitled Tea Time, although it bears no inscription nor does it have an early exhibition history. Brownell’s long career as a Canadian artist was for decades forgotten or dismissed by art historians. But in the past few decades, his contributions to Canadian art have come to be more deeply appreciated as scholars recognized his work as a Canadian Impressionist. He has been included in several major surveys on the subject, in 1995 (Lowrey et. al.), 2015 (Prakash), and most recently in the “Canada and Impressionism: New Horizons” exhibition organized by Katerina Antanassova of the National Gallery of Canada in 2019, as well as having a major retrospective at the Ottawa Art Gallery in 1998.

As early as 1888, John W. H. Watts, acting curator of the National Gallery of Canada from 1882 to 1897, had written to artist Homer Watson that: “Brownell ... has a faculty of getting light all through his work and more poetic”. A critical reviewer of the 1892 RCA exhibition described his work using the terms “Impression” and “tonal pensiveness”. Soon after he arrived in Canada in 1887, Brownell had already begun to push the limits of Canadians’ acceptance of more advanced international art movements. Canadian art lovers remained extremely conservative for a long period of time. The National Gallery of Canada only acquired a work by Claude Monet or any other Impressionist artist until 1914, while the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts acquired its first Monet in 1918, and the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO) did not own a Monet until 1929. Modernism took a long time to be accepted in Canada, but Brownell was among the first to try and gain acceptance for new directions in artistic endeavour.

Here, two different aspects of Brownell’s work in relation to wider international developments appear. The choice of subject matter, the tea set, and the firescreen in the background all reflect the influence of “Japonisme”, linking him to such diverse artists as Edouard Manet, Alfred Stevens, James MacNeill Whistler, and James Tissot. This is likely one of Brownell’s earliest essays in the style, but he seems not to have exhibited it publicly, although a later work, “The Blue Kimono”, appeared at the Art Association of Montreal spring exhibitions in 1905 and 1906. Brownell’s work also reflects a theme in American Impressionism, the image of women, which art historian W.G. Gerdt noted was “the one most acknowledged and discussed in the critical literature”.

In this work, Brownell echoes the work of many of his American contemporaries, including Frank Benson, Edmund Tarbell, and Thomas Eakins, as well as Canadian counterparts, including George Agnew Reid, William Brymner, and Frederick S. Challener. Although Brownell had built a reputation as a portrait painter, he rarely painted women, with the exception of his wife and daughter, who acted as his models for many such genre pieces.

We extend our thanks to Jim Burant, art historian and curator, for contributing the preceding essay. He spent four decades with the art and photo holdings of Library and Archives Canada. He has organized or co‒organized many exhibitions and has written and lectured widely about aspects of Canada’s visual heritage, his most recent publication being about the History of Art in Ottawa, published by the Art Canada Institute. He was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for services to Canada in 2002, and is a member of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation.

Share this item with your friends

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.