John George Brown was a British citizen and an American painter born in Durham, England on November 11, 1831. He studied at Newcastle-on-Tyne in the Edinburgh Academy. His parents apprenticed him to the career of glass worker at the age of fourteen in an attempt to dissuade him from pursuing painting. After moving to New York City in 1853, he studied with Thomas Seir Cummings at the National Academy of Design where he was elected a National Academician in 1861. Brown was the Academy’s vice-president from 1899 to 1904.
Around 1855, he worked for the owner of the Brooklyn Glass Company, and later he married the daughter of his employer. His father-in-law encouraged his artistic abilities, supporting him financially, letting Brown pursue painting full-time. In 1866, he became one of the charter members of the Water-Color Society, of which he was president from 1887 to 1904. Brown became famous for his depictions of street urchins found on the streets of New York (bootblacks, street musicians, posy sellers, newsboys, etc.).
His Passing Show (Paris, Salon, 1877) and Street Boys at Play (Paris Exhibition, 1900) are good examples of his popular talent. Brown’s art is best characterized as British genre paintings adapted to American subjects. Essentially literary, Brown’s paintings are executed with precise detail, but poor in color, and more popular with the general public than with connoisseurs.