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Brown, Alice Van Vechten

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Brown, Alice Van Vechten

    Other Names:

    • Alice Brown

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 07 June 1862

    Date Died: 16 October 1949

    Place Born: Hanover, Grafton, NH, USA

    Place Died: Middletown, Monmouth, NJ, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Contemporary (style of art) and museology

    Career(s): art historians

    Institution(s): Wellesley College


    Establisher of the first Art History program and Art Museology courses in the United States. Alice Van Vechten Brown was the daughter of Samuel Gilman Brown (1813-1885), a professor at Dartmouth College and former president of Hamilton College, and Sarah Van Vechten (Brown)(1819-1893). Her grandfather Francis Brown was the third president of Dartmouth College. From 1881 to 1885, Brown studied at Art Students League, New York, under William M. Chase, the founder of the Parsons School of Design. Brown continued her training as a painter abroad and exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants, Paris. She returned to the U.S. and worked as the assistant director and the director of the Norwich Art School, Connecticut, from 1891 to 1897. During this period, Brown developed the “Laboratory Method” of teaching art history. She insisted on the hands-on approach of appreciating artworks by practicing the studio technique and introduced this method to Wellesley College when she was hired to be a Professor of Art in 1897. Brown’s innovation quickly prevailed among other schools and became known as the “Wellesley Method.” As the head of the Department of Art, Brown led Wellesley to become the first American college to offer an Art History major in 1900. She worked with Myrtilla Avery to initiate the first Art Museology course in 1910. In 1926 Brown hired Alfred H. Barr to teach the first courses in contemporary art in America. Later as the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Barr spoke highly of the Wellesley Art History program, commenting that the multidepartmental plan at MoMA consisted of “simply the subject headings of the Wellesley course.” Receiving suggestion from Bernhard Berenson, F. Mason Perkins, and Frank J. Mather, Brown published her only book A Short History of Italian Painting in 1926. She was succeeded by Myrtilla Avery in 1929.  She died in1949 in Middletown, New Jersey.

    Selected Bibliography

    • [and Rankin, William] A Short History of Italian Painting, London: J.M. Dent & sons, 1926;


    • Gustafson, Eleanor H. “A New Look for the Davis at Wellesley.” Magazine Antiques 183, no. 6, (November 2016): 136;
    • Kantor Sybil Gordon. 2002. Alfred H. Barr Jr. and the Intellectual Origins of the Museum of Modern Art. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press, 2002, p.91;
    • Leonard John William, Editor. Woman’s Who’s Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada. New York: American Commonwealth Co;
    • Nersessian, Sirarpie Der. “The Direct Approach in the Study of Art History.” College Art Journal 1, no. 3 (1942): 55;
    • Sherman, Claire Richter. “Women Librarians as Interpreters of the Visual Arts.” ARLIS/NA Newsletter 9, no. 5 (1981): 186.;

    Contributors: Siyu Chen


    Siyu Chen. "Brown, Alice Van Vechten." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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