Printmakers You Should Know: Bolton Brown

As I've mentioned the Fanciful Lobster in previous posts, lithography is typically a collaborative process: an artist has an idea for an image, and consults the technical expertise of a master printer who can make that idea a tangible work of art. Today, however, I'm going to introduce you to an artist who could do both: Bolton Coit Brown (1864-1936).

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Bolton Brown (1864-1936). Image courtesy of

Brown actually led a pretty adventurous life. Raised in New York, he relocated to California in 1891 after getting his Master's in Painting from Syracuse University.  In California, he helped to establish the art department at Stanford University. Brown was also quite the mountain climber, taking on many of the Sierra Nevada's peaks. Mount Bolton Brown (13,538 ft) is named for him.

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Image courtesy of

After leaving Standford, Brown returned to New York. There, in Woodstock, he and Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead founded an artist's colony called Byrdcliffe. Modeled off the Arts and Crafts ideals, Brown worked with another artist, Hervey White, to get the colony going. Unfortunately, neither of them got on with Whitehead that well, and by 1903, Brown had left. This pattern followed Brown throughout his life. He was extremely talented as an artist, and he knew it. This meant that his strong personality clashed with his colleagues and collaborators, making it challenging to sustain partnerships with him.

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Bolton Brown, Woodstock Church, ca. 1913, oil on board, Eric Angeloch Collection. Image courtesy of

Brown became involved with lithography around 1913. He felt, however, that the knowledge of the medium in American was sorely lacking, so he went over to England from about 1914-1916 to study it. Remember, World War I was in full swing at this time, so that should give you a sense of Brown's dedication to mastering the technique.

The effort paid off though, as you can see in these images:

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Bolton Brown, Study of Trees by a River, 1918, lithograph. Image courtesy of

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Bolton Brown, Rocky Shore, 1924, lithography. Image courtesy of
Most of Brown's prints focus on organic subjects such as landscapes, particularly trees and bathers frequenting rocky pools. Brown's bathers in particular have a softer feel to them, exuding a Tonalist aesthetic.

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Bolton Brown, The Bather, 1922, lithograph. Image courtesy of

Personally I prefer the more linear lithographs. They have the casual, assured feel of a pencil drawing, and their readily visible lines give the images a sense of energy and of the creative process itself. I can mentally see, even feel, these lithographs being made, of being drawn down, in a way that I can't with the more tonalist works.

Zena Mill in particular is one of my favorite of Brown's printed works. The sense of perspective in the bridge, the energetic clusters of lines signifying leaves and cast shadows, the bold contours comprising the floorboards in the foreground, all this evokes for me a sense of confidence, of an artist who is in such complete control of his craft that he makes it look effortless. It is a print that encapsulates Castiglione's sprezzatura.

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Bolton Brown, Zena Mill, 1923, lithograph. Image courtesy of
Brown's legacy as a printmaker extends beyond his own output though. In addition to printing his own images, he also taught the subject, and printed lithographs for other artists, most famously for George Bellows:
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George Bellows and Bolton Brown, Pool Player, 1921, lithograph. Image courtesy of
Being an artist himself, Brown could be a challenging printer to work with because he felt that his own aesthetic sense equalled or surpassed that of his collaborating artists. Indeed, he often signed his name alongside the artist's when he printed lithographs, as he felt his contribution was that of an equal (a practice you can find on Tamarind Institute prints today, where the printer will include his or her distinctive chop). When the personalities harmonized, however, as was the case with Bellows, the results were magic. In 1925, after George Bellows died unexpectedly, Brown more or less ended his work with lithography, focusing instead on writing.

Brown ended his life in isolation and relative poverty in the Woodstock region. In the last years of he life, he wrote and published Lithography for Artists, and it remained the leading important resource on lithographic printing for many years. From his own output to his skills as a teacher and printer, Brown's lithographic legacy is nothing less than impressive.

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Bolton Brown, Two Peaks, 1925, lithograph, collection of David B. Gubits and Mariella Bisson. Image courtesy of

Want to learn more? Check out these sites:

And for those of you who prefer books, I highly recommend Crayonstone: The Life and Work of Bolton Brown (Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1993), by Clinton Adams, another Printmaker You Should (and will) Know.