Born in Durham, Scotland in 1831, J.G. Brown grew up in Newcastle-on-Tyne, where he worked as an apprentice in a glass factory. In Edinburgh he enrolled at the Royal Scottish Academy and by 1853 was selling his portraits in London. That same year Brown emigrated to America settling in Brooklyn, New York. While working at the Brooklyn Glass Factory, Brown attended night classes at the National Academy of Design. During this period in New York, he continued to paint portraits, which brought him to the attention of several important patrons, and by 1860, Brown had his own studio at the famous 51 West 10th Street address.
As his portraits of children became so popular and profitable, he devoted most of his time to painting genre scenes. His bright, well scrubbed faces register no hints of unhappiness and illustrate Brown’s tendency to edit the realism of everyday life. Though Brown’s urban subjects bought him financial success, he also painted many scenes of children in rural settings.
Influenced by both Eastman Johnson and Winslow Homer in his choice of subject matter, Brown, nevertheless, developed his own interpretation and style. “Bird Nesting” is a fine example of that style. The looser brush stroke and his use of naturalistic color bring to mind Winslow Homer. Brown’s palette has grown brighter and his application of paint is more varies in his outdoor scenes. Brown’s sensitivity is seen here, not only to the representation of the figure, but to the outdoors and its nuances of light and shadow as well. He was particularly attracted to the use of bright sunlight when he painted outside, always paying careful attention to the dappling effects of its reflections on different surfaces. The young boy climbing at an angle on the cliff by the beach, with the bird nest in his sight, reminds me of a carefree day at the beach. His strong, rich palette, the upright canvas, the depth of the rocks and the absorption of the boys gaze and the quietude of his surroundings create an atmosphere of suspended calm in an attempt to evoke youth’s ideal state.