CLINTON BROWN (d. 1954) was an American artist who painted in a variety of genres, including portraits, landscapes, seascapes, gardens, and, in later years, still lifes, primarily of floral arrangements. In the late 1940s he changed his name to Michael Clinton, coinciding with the change in his artistic direction. Though he was a regular visitor to the Bahama Islands, where he produced smaller versions of his oil paintings, it is his work executed on the island of Bermuda, to which he also traveled frequently, that is arguably the hallmark of his career and legacy.
Brown spent much of his adult life in New York City, where he was best known as a painter of portraits. According to David Rain, the great-grand nephew of the artist’s life partner, Brown was referenced as a “reputable portraitist” in Donald Vining’s A Gay Diary: 1933-1946 (New York: Masquerade Books, 1996), a well-known and influential compilation of journal entries chronicling gay life in mid-twentieth century America. In the 1940s Brown moved to San Francisco, where he changed his name and turned his attention to flower paintings in an effort to induce art galleries to carry his work. Still, Rain attests, he continued to compose landscapes, creating many studies of northern California’s mountains and dry creek-beds. Several of his works have appeared on the art market in recent years, including: Room Registry Y.W.C.A., a well-circulated 1918 poster designed to attract the attention of young women in need of shelter, created for the Young Women’s Christian Association; Summer Conferences, a poster disseminated in 1920 calling attention to upcoming seasonal events (almost surrealistic in its depiction of several women dressed in white walking through the woods); Happy Day with Grandpa, an oil-on-canvasboard effort seemingly influenced by Norman Rockwell; Seascape, an oil-on-canvasboard painting featuring waves crashing upon a rocky promontory; The Rower (ca. 1930s), a portrait in oil of a handsome young rower wearing a blue turtleneck and holding an oar (the red rocks behind him suggest that the painting may be of Bermudian vintage); and Still Life with Wisteria, produced during the artist’s later period and signed “Michael Clinton.”
Brown first visited Bermuda in 1937, returning in 1939, 1947, 1949, and several occasions thereafter, often renting small cottages which served as his studio/living quarters. The landscapes, seascapes, house and garden scenes, and later-period florals crafted during these visits have come to constitute a core component of his oeuvre, beginning with 1939’s Coastal Inlet (a.k.a. Inland Shore), a stylishly conceived and crisply executed rendering of Bailey’s Bay, with a rock formation in the foreground and a house, sailboat, and rolling green hills in the distance. Part of the permanent collection of the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, this work is currently on public display in the Museum’s exhibition, Up Country, Down Country (on view through December 2016); in a review of the exhibition in the January 31st 2016 edition of the Royal Gazette, Nick Silk wrote: “Inland Shore, the oil-on-canvas by American Clinton Brown, is a delight and conjures up a sense of calmness.” Brown’s 1939 sojourn to the island also resulted in the oil-on-canvasboard Bermuda Farmhouse, regarded as an interesting study in cloud formation in which the artist made the sky look like an extension of the sea. In 1941 he sent one of his Bermuda landscapes to be sold for charity at the United Arts Festival Show at the Hamilton Armory (Royal Gazette, October 27th 1941 p.12). In 1947, two of the paintings he submitted to the Sandy’s Flower Show at “Cambridge” in Somerset - Long Bay and Lily Field - won first and second prizes, respectively, in the popular-vote art contest. (The May 3rd 1947 (p.8) edition of the Royal Gazette offers up a glowing review of these two winning compositions.) Also in 1947 he produced the oil-on-canvasboard seascape-study of a limestone rock formation, Bermuda Coast, and in 1953 and 1954, now signing his works “Michael Clinton,” exhibited at the Society of Artists in Bermuda. In recent years, a number of his florals have comprised part of the decor at the Cambridge Beaches Resort; an unsigned still life from this assemblage, featuring hyacinths and forsythia in a yellow vase and a blue and white bowl, appeared on the art market in 2014, supported by the hotel’s publicly declared belief in its authenticity. Moreover, anecdotal evidence included in the historical record suggests that Brown, perhaps while in Bermuda, composed a series of oils spotlighting figures (both men and women, sometimes nude) standing atop rocky outcroppings. One of these works, a mural-sized effort, is believed to have adorned the public area of a hotel in Carmel, California.
In 1954, Brown was readying a gallery show in New York City when a medical condition forced him to be hospitalized; he died on the operating table during a subsequent surgical procedure. Many of his paintings still remain in the private possession of his estate’s beneficiaries.
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