Saint Louis University

MOCRA presents a tribute to the late American painter Frederick J. Brown.

Frederick J. Brown (1945-2012)
A Tribute to Frederick J. Brown logo



June 12 - August 26, 2012

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Hours: Tues - Sun, 11 am - 4 pm. MOCRA will be closed on July 4 for Independence Day.

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MOCRA was saddened to receive word that American painter Frederick J. Brown passed away on May 5, 2012.

Brown (1945-2012) was one of America's finest and most prolific expressionist artists. His paintings draw on many sources, including his African-American and Choctaw ancestry, his religious upbringing, and the folklore of the South. He referenced religious, historical and urban themes in his work, but was especially noted for his numerous portraits of jazz and blues artists.

In fact, the connection between music and painting was a constant in Brown’s life and art. In a 2005 interview, Brown spoke about the vibrant New York cultural scene in the 1970s:

. . . you had these people all around you who were at the top of their game and of the avant garde scene and of the aesthetic thing. . . . Plus, right in front of me, I saw the work ethic. You could go to their studio or they could come to yours, and you could partake in whatever you wanted to partake in and discuss aesthetics at the highest level. You had all this kind of wisdom, information, feedback and back-and-forth.

Brown had a grand piano in his SoHo loft, which served as a salon for artists and musicians. He called music “the catalyst for much of what I do” and frequently worked on a portrait while listening to the subject’s music.

Brown’s painting shows the influence of the German Expressionists and the American Abstract-Expressionists, especially that of his mentor and friend, Willem de Kooning. He exhibited widely throughout the United States and abroad, and his paintings are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City; and the White House, Washington, D.C. In 1988, Brown had the largest retrospective ever given a Western artist by the People's Republic of China, and he is the only Western artist ever to have had an exhibition at China's national museum in Tienanmen Square.

The Life of Christ Altarpiece

Frederick J. Brown - The Life of Christ Altarpiece (1994-95)

Frederick J. Brown, The Life of Christ Altarpiece, 1994-95.
Mixed media on canvas. 108 x 48 in.
Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art,
Saint Louis University

In 1992 Brown offered to execute a large, multi-paneled altarpiece based on the life of Christ for the soon-to-open Museum of Contemporary Religious Art. A generous gift of UMB Banks and the Crosby Kemper Foundations helped make that project a reality. The resulting Life of Christ Altarpiece, dedicated to artist Max Beckmann, is comprised of a central triptych (depicting the Baptism, Descent From the Cross, and Resurrection of Christ), measuring over 15 feet wide; and two large side panels, depicting the Madonna and Child and the Descent into Hell. Through strong brushwork and brilliant coloration, Brown created a moving visual theological reflection on the life of Christ.

The work had its premiere exhibition at MOCRA in 1995, and the paintings have been shown both singly and as an ensemble frequently since. The Madonna and Child, the hallmark piece of the polyptych, is perhaps one of the most readily identifiable works in the MOCRA collection.

MOCRA is pleased to present the complete Life of Christ Altarpiece as a tribute to one of America's finest and most distinctive contemporary painters.

Additional links

more about Frederick J. Brown

more about the MOCRA exhibition Frederick J. Brown: The Life of Christ Altarpiece

read a remembrance of Frederick J. Brown by MOCRA Director Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J.

read a remembracnce of Frederick J. Brown on ArtInfo

read Frederick J. Brown's obituary in The New York Times

watch Frederick J. Brown's memorial service, held at Trinity Episcopal Church, New York, on July 10, 2012