J. Carter Brown

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John Carter Brown III
Director of the
National Gallery of Art
In office
1969–1992
Preceded by John Walker
Succeeded by Earl Alexander Powell III
Personal details
Born (1934-10-08)October 8, 1934
Providence, Rhode Island
Died June 17, 2002(2002-06-17) (aged 67)
Boston, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Constance Mellon Byers
(m. 1971; div. 1973)

Pamela Braga Drexel
(m. 1976; div. 1991)
Children John Carter Brown IV
Elissa Lucinda Brown
Parents John Nicholas Brown II
Education Groton School
Alma mater Harvard University
Harvard Business School
New York University
Occupation Director
Awards National Medal of Arts, Honor Award

John Carter Brown III (October 8, 1934 – June 17, 2002), director of the U.S. National Gallery of Art from 1969 to 1992 and a leading figure in American intellectual life. Under Brown's direction, the National Gallery became one of the leading art museums in the United States, if not the world. He was known as a champion of the arts and public access to art at a time of decreased public spending on the humanities.[1]

Early life

Brown was born in Providence, Rhode Island on October 8, 1934 to John Nicholas Brown II and Anne Seddon Kinsolving Brown.[2] His family had been prominent since before the American Revolution. His ancestors donated the initial endowment for Brown University and served as professors, administrators, and benefactors of the school in its early years. His father, John Nicholas Brown II, served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (AIR) under President Harry S. Truman. Brown’s parents, both involved in numerous cultural organizations, encouraged their son’s interest in art.[3]

As a boy he attended the Arizona Desert School near Tucson, Arizona before completing his secondary education at the Groton School in Massachusetts, where he graduated at the top of his class. He spent one year at the Stowe School in England before enrolling at Harvard University. He graduated summa cum laude with a major in History and Literature and was president of the Harvard Glee Club. Seeking a unique entry point into the world of art and culture, Brown decided to pursue a business degree long before "arts management" existed as a common course of study. After completing his M.B.A. at Harvard Business School, he spent a year studying with Harvard-trained art historian Bernard Berenson in Florence, Italy. He then enrolled at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. After completing his master's degree, he decided not to complete a Ph.D. in art history.[4]

National Gallery

In 1961, Brown was hired by the National Gallery of Art as an assistant to the Director, John Walker. He was soon groomed to be Walker’s successor and appointed assistant director in 1964. In this capacity he supervised the construction of the museum's East Building, designed by American architect I. M. Pei. In 1969, at the age of 34, Brown became director the National Gallery. He would become the longest serving director in the National Gallery's history.[4]

One of Brown's ambitions as director was to attract larger crowds to the nation's art museum. He was known for bringing “blockbuster” exhibitions to the museum. The National Gallery became a rival of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for exhibitions and donations. During his 23 years as director of the National Gallery, he added over 20,000 works to the collection. As many museums and cultural institutions lost public funding, Brown worked with Congress to increase the Gallery's operating budget year after year. He inherited a budget of $3 million in 1969 and increased that to $52 million when he retired in 1992. During the same period, the Gallery's endowment grew from $34 million to $186 million.[5]

Through his high-profile leadership of the National Gallery, Brown became one of the leading public intellectuals in American and the champion of American art. His contacts in Washington politics and New York society aided him in his work at the museum. He also served as a trustee of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, a member of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, and the chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts,[6] a review panel that oversees public art and architecture in the nation's capital.[7] In this latter position, he approved the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the addition to the Corcoran Gallery of Art designed by Frank Gehry. He also opposed the plan to amend Washington's Height Act to allow for taller buildings, saying President Washington's "vision is unpolluted as yet by the pressures of economic greed.” He also supported the erection of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall, though he described U. S. Marine Corps's Iwo Jima Memorial as "kitsch," comparing the monument to "a great piece of Ivory Soap carved."[4]

In 1991, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[8] Brown retired in 1992, after the National Gallery’s 50th anniversary.[4]

Retirement

After leaving the National Gallery in 1992, he became chairman of Ovation, a cable television arts network that furthered his ambition to "bring the arts into people's living rooms.” He also remained involved in many cultural organizations, including the American Federation of Arts, the National Academy of Design, the Storm King Art Center, and the World Monuments Fund. He continued to serve also as a trustee of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and as chairman of the jury for the Pritzker Prize, the leading award for architecture. In 1993 he was presented with the Honor Award by the National Building Museum at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.[9]

Personal life

In 1971, Brown married Constance Barber (née Mellon) Byers (1941–1983),[10] a daughter of Richard King Mellon,[11] granddaughter of Richard B. Mellon, and the former wife of William Russell Grace Byers.[12] She was also a niece of Paul Mellon, chairman of the National Gallery's Board of Trustees and a major donor.[13][14] They divorced in 1973.[1]

In 1976, he married Pamela Braga Drexel (1947–2005) in Westminster Abbey, London. She was the daughter of B. Rionda Braga, a Cuban who was involved in the Sugar business,[15] and the former wife of John R. Drexel IV (b. 1945).[16] Before their divorce in 1991, they were the parents of two children:[17]

  • John Carter Brown IV (born 1977)
  • Elissa Lucinda Rionda Brown (born 1983).[18]

After their divorce, Pamela remarried to George Lewis Ohrstrom.[19] In August 2000, Carter was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a terminal blood cancer, which was treated with an autologous stem cell transplant. Brown resumed his normal life until May 2002, when he was rehospitalized. He died six weeks later.[20]

Near the end of his life, he became engaged to marry Anne Hawley of Brookline, Massachusetts, Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. He had also begun writing a book about his life and his father’s life.[1]

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c Kimmelman, Michael (19 June 2002). "J. Carter Brown, 67, Is Dead; Transformed Museum World". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  2. ^ Cleveland Amory and Earl Blackwell (1986). Celebrity Register. ISBN 978-0-9615476-0-8. Retrieved 2011-04-22. John Carter Brown III was born on 8 October 1934 in Providence, RI, a descendant of both the state's founder Roger Williams and the manufacturer/philanthropist who endowed Brown University. ... 
  3. ^ Buonanno, Vincent (2002). "Art of the Possible". Brown Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d Kastor, Elizabeth (2 April 1992). "CARTER BROWN, PERSONALLY SPEAKING". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  5. ^ "J Carter Brown". The Telegraph. 20 June 2002. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  6. ^ "U.S. Commission of Fine Arts". Cfa.gov. 2009-05-14. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  7. ^ Thomas E. Luebke, ed., Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013): Appendix B, p. 540.
  8. ^ "Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts". Nea.gov. Archived from the original on April 11, 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  9. ^ "Honor Award". Nbm.org. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  10. ^ "Constance Barber Mellon, 41, Prominent Patron of the Arts". The New York Times. 4 January 1983. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  11. ^ Times, Special To the New York (4 June 1970). "Richard K. Mellon, Financier, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  12. ^ "Constance Mellon Married Here; Banker's Daughter Wed to William R.G. Byers". The New York Times. 27 July 1962. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  13. ^ Times, Special To the New York (24 February 1971). "J. C. Brown to Marry Mrs. Byers". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  14. ^ Times, Special To the New York (18 June 1971). "Mrs. Byers Wed to J. C. Brown". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  15. ^ "B. RIONDA BRAGA". The New York Times. 25 July 1986. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  16. ^ "Notes on People | Director of National Art Gallery to Wed". The New York Times. 24 September 1976. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  17. ^ Mayhew, Augustus (9 January 2014). "Resort Life, Chapter XXXII: Summer 1967". New York Social Diary. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  18. ^ "National Gallery director has worked nowhere else". Baltimore Sun. March 17, 1991. Retrieved 2011-04-22. Born: Oct. 8, 1934, Providence, R.I. Home: Georgetown in Washington. Family: Separated from second wife, Pamela Drexel Brown. Children: [John Carter Brown IV], 13, and Elissa Lucinda Rionda Brown, 7. Education: B.A., Harvard, 1956; M.B.A., Harvard, 1958; European studies, 1958-1960; M.A., New York University, 1961. Professional: National Gallery of Art, assistant to the director, 1961-'63; assistant director, 1964-'68; deputy director, 1968-'69; director, 1969-present. His favorite painting at the gallery: "I will quote a Baltimore relation, a great-uncle, who used to say about women, `I love them all, but I adore the one I'm with.' It's very hard to choose between your children." 
  19. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (9 October 2005). "George L. Ohrstrom Jr. Dies; Virginia Financier, Sportsman". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  20. ^ Kilian, Michael (June 27, 2002). "Brown left monumental accomplishments". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 

Further reading

  • Neil Harris, Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

External links

  • Dictionary of Art Historians
  • National Gallery obituary
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
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