George de Forest Brush

George de Forest Brush (September 28, 1855 – April 24, 1941) was an American painter. In collaboration with his friend, the artist Abbott H. Thayer, he made contributions to military camouflage, as did his wife, aviator and artist Mary Taylor Brush, and their son, the sculptor Gerome Brush.

Brush is also well known as the “grandfather” of American art pottery. Having been inspired by the American Pueblo artisans, and learning their craft, he brought these techniques to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and more importantly Long Island and Manhattan, New York, where he started The Brush Guild Pottery Foundation. His students were mostly females, who would later go on to create decorative household works, jars with lids, urns and such. Many depicted animal stylings (bulls, cows, lions).

His oil paintings (specifically of Indians, from the period 1888–1900) were important influences on the young illustrator N. C. Wyeth. Observe the similarities in shapes and symbols in his painting Mourning her Brave and Wyeth’s Winter (of 1909). He led a fascinating life and was an important force in the arts at the turn of the 20th century.

Although Brush was born in Shelbyville, Tennessee, his parents, Nancy (Douglas) and Alfred Clark Brush, were New Englanders, and he grew up in Danbury, Connecticut. He attended the National Academy of Design in New York, and also studied in Paris under Jean-Léon Gérôme at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where Thayer was also a student.

He returned from Paris in 1880, and soon after accompanied his brother on a business excursion to Wyoming. He remained in that part of the country for some months, and lived among various Native Americans, including Arapahoes, Crows and Shoshones. When he returned East, he developed a series of paintings derived from his drawings of Indian life. In the early 1880s, some of these were published in prominent periodicals, such as Harper’s Weekly and Century Magazine, sometimes as illustrations for his own eyewitness accounts. Even years later, he still enjoyed living occasionally in a tepee. It was partly because of such “wildness” that his future in-laws refused to approve of his marriage to their daughter, née Mittie Taylor Whelpley, which took place by elopement in 1886.

From 1883 he published illustrations of Indian life in Harpers and Century Magazines and from 1885 in An Artist Among the Indians. He was a lecturer at Cooper Union and The Art Students League, and in 1906 became a member of the National Academy of Design.

Brush’s work consists of naturalistic representations of indigenous Americans, numerous portraits and family genre scenes in which models were members of his family. He has received several honors including: Gold medals at exhibitions in Chicago (1893), Paris (1900), Buffalo (1901) and Saint Louis (1904).

Around the same time period, the subjects of Brush’s paintings evolved from heroic depictions of Indian life to Renaissance-inspired portraits, some of which were modeled by his wife and his children. Among his many awards were gold medals at the Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893), Exposition Internationale (Paris, 1900), Pan-American Exposition (Buffalo, 1901), and Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis, 1904). He was elected to the Society of American Artists, the National Academy of Design (1908), and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1910).

Brush and his family often spent the summer in Dublin, New Hampshire, where there was a thriving artists colony, and where they eventually settled. Among the other residents was Thayer, who was intensely interested in protective coloration in nature or what later became known as camouflage. According to Brush’s daughter, as early as 1898 Brush and Thayer worked together on devising ways to use natural camouflage principles for military purposes. For example, they suggested that countershading (a natural protective device that Thayer had discovered in 1896) could be used as a way of reducing the visibility of a ship. This was later patented (by Thayer and Gerome Brush) as U.S. Patent No. 715013, “Process of Treating the Outside of Ships, etc., For Making Them Less Visible”.

In 1916, Brush acquired a small Morane-Borel monoplane (also known as a Morane-Saulnier). He experimented with the possibility of making its wings and fuselage transparent, to reduce its visibility. His wife, who was an early woman aviator, also addressed the problem of airplane camouflage, as shown by her various patents.

Brush died in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1941. Nearly thirty years later, his eldest daughter, a painter and theatre designer named Nancy Douglas Bowditch, published a vivid account of his life.

The artist’s family often spent the summer in Dublin, New Hampshire, where there was a colony of artists, and where they eventually stopped. Among the other inhabitants of the colony and town was Abbot Thayer, who was interested in the protective coloring in nature, which is known as camouflage in the everyday life of people. In 1898, both artists worked on ways of camouflage for military purposes. Tayer developed the camouflage principle, called Countershading (“counter-shade,” another name for Thayer’s Law), which was used to reduce the visibility of the ship. Later it was patented by both artists, as US Patent No. 715013 – “Process of Treating the Outside of Ships, etc., For Making Them Less Visible”. George’s wife was a pioneer of aviation in the US and in 1916 they purchased a Morane-Borel monoplane (also known as Morane-Saulnier). The artist experimented with an airplane to reduce its visibility, making the wings and fuselage transparent. His wife Mary also took part in this work. He was also a personal friend of Author Mark Twain, whom he visited many times. He was a world traveler.