Professor Frederick Brown, NEAC (British 1851-1941)
An impromptu dance: a scene on the Chelsea Embankment signed and dated 'Fred Brown/1883' (lower right) oil on canvas 106 x 153 cm. (41 3/4 x 60 in.)
Provenance: bought directly from the artist by James Hall Renton, on his death; Christie, Manson & Woods, April 30th, 1898, lot 64, sold for £73-10-0, purchased by Thos. Agnew & Sons on behalf of the Reverend Carrington; thence by descent to the present owner.
Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1883, no. 834.
Frederick Brown was born in Chelmsford in 1851. From 1868-1877 he studied at the National Art Training School (later the Royal College of Art), where he grew to resent the mechanical teaching methods then prevalent in Britain. He subsequently became a successful art teacher himself, first at the Westminster School of Art (1877-92) and later at the Slade in direct succession to Alphonse Legros, from 1893-1918. Much inspired by Legross reforms at the Slade, Brown encouraged his students to develop their own individual style. It is hardly surprising that Brown should have become a founder of the New English Art Club in 1886, and author of its constitution, establishing a group of discontented artists who favoured the naturalism and spontaneity of plein-air painting over the conservatism of the Royal Academy in particular and the Academic tradition in general and which included such luminaries as Harold Gilman, Roger Fry, William Rothenstein, John Lavery, Water Sickert, Philip Wilson Steer and John Singer Sargent among its members.
As a painter of landscape and genre, it was Browns training in Paris at the Academie Julian in 1883 and in particular the work of the French realist, Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884 ) which was to influence his future output.
Frederick Brown exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1879 at which time he was living in Bramerton Street in Chelsea, moving to Edith Grove by 1882, the year before An impromptu dance was exhibited. It was during the 19th and early 20th Centuries that many artists had established their studios in Chelsea, particularly towards the end of the 1870s when sites for building along the newly-created Chelsea Embankment and the surrounding areas became available. The setting for An impromptu dance is the Chelsea Embankment, an area with which Brown would have been very familiar. Brown has depicted a charming and spontaneous scene on this most lively stretch of the Thames; an organ grinder stands observed by two young boys, fascinated by his art, while two young women dance to his merry tune and two small girls hitch up their skirts to join in the excitement of the dance. Two young mothers and a merchant cease their activities as they turn to delight in the spontaneity of the moment, while a policeman strolls cheerily towards the group. In An impromptu dance Brown has offered the spectator a glimpse into this lively corner of London, imbuing the figures with great pathos as they take up the spontaneous dance in their simple dress.