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A peripatetic artist with a passionate interest in the natural world, Charles Brownell is best known for his distinctive landscapes of both American and international scenery. Often executed with a scientist’s preciseness for physical details, these works record Brownell’s extensive travels through the United States, Caribbean, and Europe. Closely associated with artists of Hudson River Valley School—especially Frederic Edwin Church—Brownell "spent the better part of his life trying to achieve a finer understanding of man’s place in nature’s grand scheme" through his art.
Born to privileged circumstances, Brownell was educated in the law and practiced for ten years in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut until a health crisis forced him to pursue a less stressful career. He studied locally in Hartford under Julius Busch and Joseph C Ropes before opening a studio. A man of letters, Brownell also published a comprehensive illustrated study of native populations titled The Indian Races of North and South America. During this time—and, indeed, throughout his life—Brownell traveled widely, making highly detailed visual accounts as he went. He created a sizeable body of work of Cuban landscapes and also recorded his impressions of his travels throughout the Caribbean. After living for a few years in New York City, where he exhibited at the National Academy of Design and Brooklyn Art Museum, Brownell moved to Bristol, Rhode Island. In 1871, he departed on a seven-year sojourn in Europe. He later toured widely in South America and made at least one trip to the American South, as evidenced by this mid-1850s view from Savannah.
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