John Brewster, Jr. (1766-1854)

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John Brewster, Jr. was an early American artist who was famous for his portraits with a European folk art touch. Many art historians have hailed Brewster as a master of his craft and that his style and portraits were unparalleled. He used bold colors and high definition of details and patterns in his paintings to create a distinctive and extraordinary look.

Portrait of Mary Coffin 1810

Portrait of Mary Coffin, 1810

Brewster was born in Hampton, Connecticut to a Puritan family of good standing. He was the seventh generation ancestor of William Brewster who led the pilgrims through their voyage on the Mayflower. Most notably, Brewster was deaf from birth and was not able to fluently communicate with others most of his life. Nonetheless, Brewster became an extremely gifted and successful artist and was one of the most prominent American painters of his time.

One Shoe Off 1807

One Shoe Off, 1807

In the 1790’s, Brewster began to travel extensively throughout New England searching for commissions, which he found more and more often as his reputation began to form. He created both full-size and miniature ivory portraits of elite Federalists and their families. He found great success in his portraits of young children, which even today show a great amount of character and livelihood and were painted to appear almost angelic.

Francis O. Watts With Bird 1805

Francis O. Watts With Bird, 1805

At the age of 51, Brewster became one of the first students to attend the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. Brewster lived right when deaf language, history and culture had begun to form and he received some of the very first lessons available for deaf people in America. Little is known of his artistic training, though his roots are undeniably linked in European academic styles. Like few other artists of this era, Brewster would often paint his subjects holding an object of interest which would add character to his sitters and reflect their personality.

Boy Holding a Book 1810

Boy Holding a Book, 1810

Brewster has been called a “deaf artist” by art historians, as opposed to an artist who just happened to be deaf. This is because these historians believe that because he was deaf, Brewster was more in tune to the visual arts. It is widely believed and proven by scholars that deaf people are exceptionally visual, and this gift translated into art for Brewster. While it is apparent that Brewster painted from 1790 until his death in 1854, he appeared to be most prolific during from 1800 until the early 1820’s. While it is said that he spent most of his time in Maine and Connecticut, it is likely that any number of his paintings could turn up anywhere all over New England due to his extensive traveling. Today, Brewster’s paintings are housed all over the world, and command high prices at auction.

Still wondering about a striking portrait of a child or distant relative hanging in your home? Contact us…it could be by John Brewster, Jr.