Brown, Capt. John (1696-1764)Role: Colonial Merchant
Portrait Location: Nightingale-Brown House
Artist: Blackburn, Joseph (b. 1697; d. after 1778)
Portrait Date: c. 1754
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 49 1/2
Brown Portrait Number: 256
Brown Historical Property Number: 2297
Captain John Brown was a prominent merchant in mid-18th-century Newport, Rhode Island. That he was involved in the lucrative a West Indies trade is evident on the letter he has just penned in the portrait, "To Mr. Henry Sharp ? In St. Christopher." Brown was also an active member and vestryman of Newport's leading religious and social institution, Trinity Church. In 1739, Brown and several other elite Newport merchants fitted out an armed vessel to protect their trade during the Second Spanish War, an early step toward an American navy.
Joseph Blackburn was born in England, but by August of 1752 he was gaining commissions in Bermuda to paint portraits of the island's wealthiest families. He spent 1754 in Newport, hence the likely date for his portrait of Capt. Brown and his wife (BP 257). From Newport he moved on the Boston and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, drawing an ample and wealthy clientele attracted by his Rococo style. His subjects are elegantly portrayed in their finest wardrobes and well-mannered poses. By 1758, he faced stiff competition from Boston painter John Singleton Copley and by 1764 he had returned to London. His last signed portrait dates to 1778. This portrait and the companion portrait of Brown's wife Jane Lucas Brown (BP 257) were purchased in the 1930s by Brown trustee and fellow John Nicholas Brown, whose descendants donated them to Brown University in 1995.