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Albert Charles "Jack" Bown (fl. c. 1940)

Albert Charles Bown (1895-1953)

Albert Charles Bown was born in Frome, Somerset on 11 September 1895 and baptised at St John the Baptist Church, Frome on 19 October 1895. He had three older sisters and an older brother. His father, William Robert Bown (1856-1917) was proprietor of The George Hotel in the High Street, Frome. This business ran in the family as his grandfather, Henry John Bown (1825-1891), had run The Star Hotel in Wells, Somerset. According to the archives of King’s School, Bruton, Albert Charles Bown was a pupil there between September 1908 and July 1910. He then went on to study art in Frome.
The 1911 census says that Albert Charles Bown was aged 15 and employed as a clerk at the Capital and Counties Bank in Frome, Somerset. Like most men of his age Bown fought in the First World War but he did not become an officer. Initially he was in the Royal Sussex Regiment, but in 1918 he was transferred into the Royal West Surrey Regiment. From 1922 until 1948 he was the visiting Art master at Epsom College, Surrey. Between 1924 and 1930 he attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London for one day a week and paid for a class in Drawing.

As a painter Bown concentrated on using watercolour as a medium for portraying the English landscape. However there are two portraits of women, one portrait said to be of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and there was one in oil. Bown rarely signed his work, but when he did it was usually in the bottom right hand corner in the form ‘A.C. Bown’. Two pictures were signed in the bottom left hand corner (both of Nottinghamshire).

Bown painted ten paintings in the south of France (and two in the north of France), but all his other work was of England and the English-Welsh border. There are 18 paintings known of Surrey, 16 of Dorset, six of Devon, six of Hampshire, five of Herefordshire, four of Nottinghamshire and three of Monmouthshire. Bown’s style has similarities with that of Philip Wilson Steer who taught at the Slade between 1893 and 1930.

Bown held a one-man exhibition of 30 paintings at the Colnaghi Gallery in London in October 1930. A further two paintings were shown at the Gallery in 1931. He exhibited four paintings at The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London in their Christmas Exhibition of selected watercolours by leading artists in December 1933 and three more in December 1935. He also exhibited a painting at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in March 1932 and a second in [I haven’t found that one yet]. He exhibited six paintings at The Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions in 1931, 1932, 1935, 1940 and 1942 but none of them sold.

Bown was active in the ‘Recording Britain’ scheme and eight of his paintings are held by the Victoria and Albert Museum. Five of them were painted near Alton, Hampshire and three were painted in Surrey. Another of his ‘Recording Britain’ paintings ‘Bedford Circus after the Blitz’ was given to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter in 1948. The ‘Baedeker raid’ attack on Exeter took place on 4 May 1942. In his Appendix Brain Foss, War Paint: Art, State, War and Identity in Britain 1939-1945, Yale, 2007 indicates that Bown sold pictures to ‘Recording Britain’ rather than being a commissioned artist. It is known that Bown also submitted a painting of some huts forming a searchlight station at Woodthorpe Grange, Nottingham to the ‘War Artists’ but it was rejected in favour of the Exeter picture.

It is not clear whether Bown knew or had taught John Piper who had left Epsom College in the same year that Bown arrived, but it is possible that he was Bown’s link to ‘Recording Britain’. Bown was sufficiently highly thought of that he was one of only thirty-seven participating artists who received presentation copies of all four volumes of ‘Recording Britain’ between 1946 and 1949.

After his retirement Bown spent some time in Malvern, Worcestershire and then went to live in Nottingham. He was elected a member of the Nottingham Society of Artists in November 1951. He exhibited a watercolour called ‘Design of Barn and Elms’ at the Local Artists Exhibition held in the City of Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery between 5 July and 24 August 1952. There were 68 exhibits in the ‘Watercolours, Drawings and Print’ section and Bown’s asking price of £25 made it the most expensive. Bown died in Nottingham on 20 August 1953. Probate was granted on 14 January 1954 to Reginald Alexander Bown, (his brother) a company director. The effects were worth £1,520/3/10 (based on average earnings that is about £86,000 in 2012).

Bown never settled at any one address for very long. In 1931 and 1932 he lived at ‘Ellesmere’, Copthorne Road, Leatherhead, Surrey. In 1935 and 1939 he gave Shipton Gorge, Dorset as his address. In 1940 it was 10, Alexander Street, London W2 and in 1942 and 1945 109, Blackborough Road, Reigate, Surrey. However between 1936 and 1939 Bown was on the electoral roll for 10 Alexander Street, Paddington. The electoral roll for West Dorset has Albert Charles Bown as registered to vote by residence and occupation at Cuckoo Cottage, Chapel Lane, Shipton Gorge, near Bridport, Dorset in 1938. Between 1946 and 1948 he lived at 43, West Street, Reigate, Surrey. In 1948 he moved to South Villa, Wells Road, Malvern, Worcestershire and he is recorded as living there in 1949. In 1951 he was in Nottingham and in 1952 he gave his address as The Red Lodge, Hartington Road, Sherwood, Nottinghamshire [now 14, Hartington Road]. He also had an address of 27, Edingley Avenue, Sherwood, Nottinghamshire. He died on 20 August 1953 at 23 (or 28) Mapperley Street, Nottingham.

Albert Charles Bown had a strong family link with Exeter as his eldest sister, Grace Sellway Bown (1884-1966), married Robert William Wreford and they lived at 8, St Leonard’s Road, Mount Radford in 1911. His third sister Nora Isobel Bown (1888-1957) died in Exeter (but it is not clear when she went there). This link might help to explain why there are six known paintings of Devon.

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