A descendant of the Mather family of Massachusetts, Mather Brown was born in Boston in 1761. He was one of the American artists who made their way to Europe during and immediately after the American revolution, to study painting. He went first to Paris, and arrived in London in 1781 with an introduction to Benjamin West from Benjamin Franklin. Planning to be a miniature painter, Brown entered the school of the Royal Academy. He worked also in West's studio, where his style was influenced by Gilbert Stuart's and where his ambitions changed to the pursuit of a career as a portrait and history painter. Unlike most of the Americans who studied with West, Brown chose to remain in England for the rest of his life, and West's influence throughout Brown's career was very strong.
The success of two religious paintings done in 1784 for St. Mary's in the Strand, London, led Brown to found a partnership with the painter Daniel Orme for the commercialization of these and other works through exhibition and the sale of engravings. Among these were large paintings of scenes from English history, as well as scenes from Shakespeare's plays. In 1784-1785 Brown painted portraits of John Adams, his wife and daughter, and in 1786 he painted Thomas Jefferson. His full-length portraits of the Duke of York and the Prince of Wales, done in 1788 and 1789 respectively, led to his appointment as official portrait painter of the duke.
A falling off of patronage in the mid-1790s, and failure to be elected to the Royal Academy, led Brown to leave London in 1808 for Bath, Bristol, and Liverpool. He settled in Manchester, returning to London almost two decades later, in 1824, where, even after West's death, he continued to imitate his teacher's style of painting. Brown died in London in 1831. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Evans, Dorinda. Benjamin West and His American Students. Exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, Washington; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Washington, 1980: 74-83, 93-101.
Evans, Dorinda. Mather Brown: Early American Artist in England. Middletown, Connecticut, 1982.
Miles, Ellen G. American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1995: 13-14.