Byron Browne was a young art student at the conservative National Academy of Design in New York when, in 1927, he first encountered a group of Cubist paintings by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque at A. E. Gallatin's influential Gallery of Modern Art. This transformative experience caused him to...
Byron Browne was a young art student at the conservative National Academy of Design in New York when, in 1927, he first encountered a group of Cubist paintings by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque at A. E. Gallatin's influential Gallery of Modern Art. This transformative experience caused him to devote himself to modernism and abstraction throughout the rest of his career. Though Browne's highly modern style may at first appear to be far removed from historical art, the opposite is in fact true. In 1948 Browne wrote, "I feel the tradition of art to be behind every picture I do. There cannot be a new art without a solid basis in understanding of past art. Greek, Roman, Romanesque and Byzantine schools I find the most rewarding," (quoted in Harry Rand, "Byron Browne: Paintings & Drawings from the 30's, 40's & 50's," exh. cat., Nassau County Museum of Art, 1987, p. 10.) "Variations on a Greek Urn" demonstrates Browne's interest in the formal rigor and purity of line found in classical art. Though its title refers to a Greek urn, the forms in this painting allude to such an object rather than directly represent it. The painting occupied Browne for two years, far longer than most of his finished works. While the majority of Browne's paintings are simply marked with his signature and a single date at lower left, "Variations on a Greek Urn" is marked "1935-7," documenting Browne's protracted creative process. Because it was reworked so many times, the painting is comprised of several coats of thick, knobby paint, giving the sense that many layers of variations lie beneath the finished surface. Browne became a vocal advocate for American abstraction. In the fall of 1936 and spring of 1937, while painting "Variations on a Greek Urn," he helped to found the pioneering group American Abstract Artists (AAA), which became the first American organization devoted to promoting non-representational art and artists. The group organized exhibitions, published numerous essays explaining abstraction to a skeptical public, and advocated the inclusion of abstract art in major museums. AAA laid the foundation for the rise of such movements as Abstract Expressionism and the association is still active today. Heather Hole
Lower left: Byron Browne 1935-7; Reverse: Byron Browne/1937 N.Y.C./Variations on a Greek Urn/48" x 60"/New York City
The artist; to estate of the artist; with Washburn Gallery, New York; to MFA, 1979, purchase.
The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund
Stephen B. Browne