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Born in Warrenton, Virginia, Richard Norris Brooke was educated at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. Following studies with Edmund Bonsall and James Lambdin at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he also exhibited, he taught at several schools, including the Virginia Military Institute (1871-1872). From 1873 until 1876, Brooke served as U.S. Consul at La Rochelle, France, and subsequently studied under Benjamin Constant and Leon Bonnat in Paris. On his return to the United States he settled in Washington, D.C., on Vernon Row at 10th and Pennsylvania, and painted two well received genre pictures of African-American life, "The Pastoral Visit" (1880; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and "Dog Swap" (1881; National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.). Brooke's interest in black genre subjects was successful but short-lived. After 1881, he devoted himself almost entirely to landscape painting, forming, with William Holmes, Edmund Messer, James Moser, Max Weyl and others, the "Washington Landscape School." Inspired by the French Barbizon masters and their Dutch and American followers, many of whom were represented in the Thomas E. Waggaman collection begun by Brooke in 1882, the group recorded the fast-fading arcadian beauties at the Capitol, especially around Rock Creek Park and along the Potomac. In later years he shared studio space with Max Weyl in what were known as the "Barbizon Studios" near the White House, and lived with his nephew in Warrenton.
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