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Byron Browne


American Modernist & Abstract Painter

by Susan Bush

Goerge Byron Browne attended The National Academy of Design, New York City from 1924 to 1928. Browne was influenced by Cubism, Miro's fluid feel and by Abstract Expressionism. He took part in the American Avant-Garde movement along with famous painters such as Bolotowsky, Greene, Gorky, and de Kooning.

Table Of Contents


George Byron Browne was born in 1907 in Yonkers, New York. He later dropped the name “George,” although his name occasionally appears as George-Byron Browne or George B. Browne. He attended the National Academy of Design in New York City from 1924 to 1928. In 1927, he began experimenting with abstract art and eventually destroyed all of his previous representational works. Most noted was the prize winning still-life canvas that he destroyed after the piece won the Hallgarten Prize as a protest to antiquated academia, which disallowed for the “modern movement.”

Throughout his life, Browne was a champion for abstract art. In the 1930’s, Browne worked for the WPA’s mural division, completing some of the first abstract murals in the country for Studio D at radio station WNYC, the U.S. Passport office in Rockefeller Center, the Chronic Disease Hospital, the Williamsburg Housing Project, and the 1939 World’s Fair. In the 1940’s, he picketed the Museum of Modern art in New York protesting their lack of acknowledgment of American Abstract artists. Browne married Rosalind Benglesdorf in 1940, a painter and writer, who also spoke out in defense of abstract art and was a member of the American Abstract Artists along with her husband.

Byron Browne was a leader of the American Avante Garde art movement in the 1930’s and 40’s along with Bolotowsky, Greene, Gorky, and de Kooning. These artists helped pave the way for America, New York in particular, to be seen as a center for art innovation after decades of France being the art center of the world.

He was given over 60 solo exhibitions from 1933 to 1970. Byron Browne was an instructor of painting at the Arts Student League from 1948 to 1959 and taught Advanced Painting at New York University from 1959 until his untimely death in 1961. The Arts Student League later designated a scholarship in his name.

20" x 26"
gouache and casein on paper
Private Collection

In this work, the abstract forms are organized in a manner which recalls a traditional still life. Browne insisted that pure abstraction was impossible and strove to relate a more personal, abstracted vision of everyday reality. The gestural quality of paint application suggests that the artist admired certain ideas of the Abstract Expressionist school, even as he moved against their mission towards pure abstraction.


  • 1907 Born Yonkers, New York
  • 1924-28 Studied at the National Academy of Design, New York City
  • 1928 Won Third Hallgarten Prize at Academy exhibition
  • 1933 First one-man show at the Eighth Street Gallery
  • 1933-37 One man shows at the New School for Social Research, New York City
  • 1934 Joined the first artist’s union. Exhibited as part of the PWAP artists at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. Also at the Whitney Annual and every annual thereafter until 1956
  • 1935 Studied with Hans Hoffman. Worked for WPA mural division and painted one of the first abstract murals in the country
  • 1936 First meetings of the American Abstract Artists with Ibram Lassaw, Gorky, de Kooning, Greene and others. Museum of Modern Art exhibition
  • 1937-62 American Abstract Artists annual exhibitions
  • 1939 Mural for the World’s Fair as well as a painting in the American Exhibition. Worked under Fernand Leger with de Kooning on large mural. Co-founded the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, Inc.
  • 1945-48 Exhibited with the Sam Kootz Gallery
  • 1948 Began teaching at the Art Students League in New York City
  • 1951 Exhibition of works at the Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • 1954 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art makes important acquisition
  • 1961 Dies in New York City on Christmas day

    Browne’s art, while seemingly non-representational is imagery taken from every day life. Even though he departed from a classical academic style of painting, Browne believed in the tradition of art and art history to be the basis for any painting he created. “There cannot be a new art without a solid basis in understanding of past art”. He advocated nature as a foundation for all art, whether representational or abstract in form. Browne saw abstraction as an extension of the physical world, rather than images generated by spiritualism.

    Browne's work in the 1930’s reflects the cubist influence of Picasso and Braque. In the 1940’s his work takes on a more relaxed, fluid feel in the style of Miro. Browne's work progressed in the 1950’s in response to the emergence of Abstract Expressionism by incorporating gestural and painterly qualities. His later paintings often incorporate all three styles, never remaining mutually exclusive to one. In that sense, Byron Browne’s large body of work eludes a pre-existing classification.

    26" x 20"
    gouache and casein on paper
    Private Collection

    Browne painted this work while he was an instructor for the Art Students League in New York. The browns, greens and blues on such an abstract painting recall the palette of analytical cubism as practiced by Braque and Picasso. Browne was particularly interested in French modernism early on, but later helped lead America to the forefront of the art world.

    IV. EXHIBITIONS (selected list)

  • 1933 Eighth Street Playhouse, New York, NY
  • 1933-37 New School for Social Research, New York, NY
  • 1938-42 Artists’ Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1943-44 Pinacotheca Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1945-48 Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, New York, NY (five solos and groups)
  • 1948 Allen R. Hite Institute, University of Louisville, KY
  • 1952 Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY
  • 1956 Tokyo, Japan
  • 1959 Philadelphia Art Alliance, PA
  • 1949-62 Grand Central Moderns Gallery, New York, NY (annual)
  • 1961 Mansfield State College, Mansfield, PA
  • 1962 Art Students’ League, New York, NY
  • 1963 Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
  • 1964 Stanford University, Stanford, CA
  • 1964 Gallery 63, Rome, Italy
  • 1964, 1965 Gallery 63, New York, NY
  • 1971,1975 The Harmon Gallery, Naples, FL
  • 1975 Washburn Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1976 Summit Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1976 Graphis Gallery, Toronto, Canada
  • 1976 Loring Gallery , Cedarhurst, NY
  • 1977 Washburn Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1978 The Harmon Gallery, Naples, FL
  • 1979 Loring Gallery, Cedarhurst, NY
  • 1979 Graphis Gallery, Toronto, Canada
  • 1980 The Harmon Gallery, Naples, FL
  • 1980 The Harmon Galleries of American Art, Sarasota, FL
  • 1981 Loring Gallery, Cedarhurst, NY
  • 1981 Meredith Long and Co., Houston, TX
  • 1982 The Harmon Gallery, Naples, FL
  • 1982 Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ

    Included in approximately 200 major exhibitions in museums, art associations and galleries from 1933 to the present, both nationally and internationally.

    48" x 36"
    oil on canvas
    Private Collection

    This is one of the most spectacular works by the artist. The cool tones in the background set up the spectacular shock of the orange triangle. This work seems to suggest two figures at a table, although the multiplicity of forms allows for a variety of interpretations.

    V. COLLECTIONS (selected list)

  • Art Students’ League, New York, NY
  • Boca Raton Museum of Art, FL
  • Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • Brown University, Providence, RI
  • Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
  • Chrysler Museum at Norfolk, VA
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
  • Dallas Museum of Art, TX
  • Everson Museum of Art of Syracuse and Onondaga County, NY
  • Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA
  • High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
  • Hudson River Museum of Westchester, Yonkers, NY
  • Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, IN
  • Joe and Emily Lowe Art Museum, Syracuse, NY
  • Joseph H. Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
  • Milwaukee Art Center, WI
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
  • Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
  • National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian, Washinton D.C.
  • Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
  • St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO
  • State University College, New Paltz, NY
  • University of Georgia, Athens, GA
  • University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
  • University of Rochester, NY
  • University of Texas, Austin, TX
  • Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • Wichita State University, KS

    1. 1. Falk, Peter, et al. Who Was Who In American Art. CT: Sound View Press, 1999, pp. 475.
    2. 2. The Harmon Gallery. Byron Browne – A Restrospective. Exhibition catalog, 1982, pp. 3-9.
    3. 3. Mecklenburg, Virginia M. The Patricia and Phillip Frost Collection: American Abstraction 1930-1945. Exhibition catalog, Washington D.C.: National Museum of American Art and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989, pp. 44.
    4. 4. Meredith Long & Company. Byron Browne Abstract Works 1930-1950. Exhibition catalog, 1985.
    5. 5. Yares Gallery. Byron Browne Selected Works 1932-1952. Exhibition catalog, February 1982, pp. 3, 4, 9, 17.

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