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Brown, Milton W.

    Full Name: Brown, Milton W.

    Other Names:

    • Milton Brown

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1911

    Date Died: 1998

    Place Born: Newark, Essex, NJ, USA

    Place Died: Miami Beach, Miami-Dade, FL, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Marxism


    Marxist-methodology Americanist art historian. Brown’s father was Samuel Brown and his mother Celia Hamilton (Brown), Jewish grocers owners in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He studied art privately under painter and printmaker Louis Lozowick (1892-1973) before attending New York University where he graduated with a B.A. 1932, intent on becoming a public school teacher. He continued at NYU for his M.A., studying under Walter Friedlaender, Erwin Panofsky and Meyer Schapiro. His intent was to study American art, however, NYU gave no courses were given in that area. Walter W. S. Cook of the Institute encouraged him to continue an interest. After a summer at the Courtauld Institute, London, funded by a Carnegie Scholarship in 1935 and a summer at University of Brussels in 1937, he completed a master’s thesis, his French Revolutionary Painting, which he published the following year. He continued study at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum between 1938 and 1939 in the museum course of Paul J. Sachs. He married the classical art scholar and fellow IFA student Blanche R. Levine in 1938. In 1940 he received a Fogg Museum Fellowship for Modern art. Together with his new wife, the pair bought at car and toured United States museums across the country, studying American art. He served in the U. S. army during World War II in Italy in the 85th Infantry Division beginning in 1943, later reassigned to the Army’s news paper Stars and Stripes, in the Rome office. He remained in the army until 1946 where he was decorated with the bronze star. After the war, he joined Brooklyn College (today Brooklyn College of the City University of New York) as an instructor in the art department in 1946. The College was undergoing a reorganization by the Chechen-born British architect Serge Chermayeff (1900-1996) along the lines of an American Bauhaus. Brown continued at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, His Ph. D. at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, in 1949, was titled “American Art from the Armory Show to the Depression.” That same year he advanced to assistant professor at Brooklyn College, then associate professor in 1956 and professor from 1960 until 1970. His 1959 research was sponsored by the Bollingen Foundation. In 1962 while researching his book on the Armory show, Brown learned the the Archives of American Art in Detroit had just acquired an important set of documents. After spending a week with the material, Brown became so enamored with the Archives that he joined, first as a member and later as chairman in 1967. In 1963 he masterminded the remounting of the Armory Show in the exact location on its fiftieth anniversary. He participated a radio broadcast with Marcel DuChamp reviewing the original exhibition. He was responsible for interesting the collector Joseph Hirshhorn in the work of David Smith. Brown also worked with others to establish the doctoral program in art history at the College, instituted in 1971 under a curriculum designed by himself and Leo Steinberg. He chaired the art department between 1964 and 1971. In 1974 he and Louise A. Parks curated the Jacob Lawrence show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1979 his American Art to 1900 and the 1972 book American Art of the Twentieth Century by Sam Hunter were combined into American Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Decorative Arts, Photography. He was City University of New York resident professor from 1979 until 1991. He retired professor emeritus from CUNY in 1979 (succeeded by Morris Dorsky) and became a senior fellow at Williams College Art Museum until 1993. Between 1983 and 1987 he participated as senior fellow on the Maurice Prendergast catalogue raisonné at Williams College. Brown was a Samuel H. Kress professor at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art, Washgington, D. C., for the1989-1990 year. An introduction to a monograph on the artist Jack Levine, also a personal friend, appeared in 1990. Brown was deeply affected by the political Marxism of the 1930s in the United States and was one of the early exponents of its application to art history. His interest in the1913 Amory show and other American art events as well as his devotion to a documentary history of art were indicative of this belief. His dissertation and later book on American art between 1913 and the 1930s was the first scholarly treatment of that period of art. He maintained a social-history interest in all of his art writing. He and his wife, Blanche, amassed a superb collection of art nouveau and Tiffany objects, posters and furniture.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] American Art from the Armory Show to the Depression. New York University, 1949; The Painting of the French Revolution. New York: Critics Group, 1938; American Painting, 1913-1929. New York: New York University, 1952; American painting, from the Armory show to the depressioN. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955; The Story of the Armory Show. Greenwich, CT: Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation/New York Graphic Society, 1963; and Parks, Louise A. Jacob Lawrence. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1974; History of American Art to 1900. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977, combined with Sam Hunter’s Art of the Twentieth Century as, American Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Decorative Arts, Photography. New York: Abrams, 1979.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 80; [obituaries:] “Milton Brown 1911-1998: Appreciation.” Archives of American Art Journal 37, no. 1/2 (1997): 64; Gerdts, William. “Milton Brown (1911-1998): A Tribute.” American Art 12, no. 2 (Summer, 1998): 74-77.


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Brown, Milton W.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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