"Paraphrasing a quote of Cezanne's about Impressionism, Browne wrote in his notebook in 1954: "I would like to make Abstract Expressionism into something solid like the art of museums." At another time, he noted: "I sometimes paint the object more, I sometimes paint the object less. But by all means I must paint the object." He admitted: "I care nothing for style, that bugaboo of the arts used by dealers for commercial purpose. I am only interested in interpreting nature in every possible way I can." Browne's art of the mid-forties and fifties coincides with many of the directions and experiments of the Abstract Expressionists. Yet he had a mind of his own and never completely yielded to the vogue for angst-filled canvases without figurative imagery. He remained faithful to a more classical approach and never renounced his optimistic ties to nature."
- Gail Levin
A staunch advocate of Modernism and a founding member of the influential American Abstract Artists Group, Byron Browne was a leading figure in the 1930s and ’40s American avant-garde. Browne was born in 1907 in Yonkers, New York, and ultimately spent his entire life based within the greater New York City region, immersed in the changing attitudes and styles of the art scene there. He undertook formal artistic training at the National Academy of Design from 1925 to 1928, where he won the prestigious Third Hallgarten Prize for still-lifes—an indication of how traditional his early work was. While enrolled at the Academy, he met and befriended fellow painter Arshile Gorky. Both artists embraced the then burgeoning Abstract Expressionist movement, and in 1929, when Browne’s practice had matured and his fervor for abstraction intensified, he destroyed his early academic works.
Like many other artists of the time, Browne faced financial difficulties during the 1930s despite consistently exhibiting, and he found work in the mural division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). During his tenure with the WPA, Browne completed major projects at the US Passport Office in Rockefeller Center and the 1939 World’s Fair, among others. Both in these murals and in his own work, Browne experimented with various forms of abstraction, though he never truly abandoned recognizable imagery, as he believed “abstract art forms are not separated from life.”
By the outset of World War II, Browne had established his own recognizable style, which showed the influence of artists he admired, particularly Pablo Picasso and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. His oeuvre illuminates a specific moment in the development of American art, and his works have been collected by such major institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, among many others.