J. Carter Brown

Last updated
John Carter Brown III
Director of the
National Gallery of Art
In office
Preceded by John Walker
Succeeded by Earl Alexander Powell III
Personal details
Born(1934-10-08)October 8, 1934
Providence, Rhode Island
DiedJune 17, 2002(2002-06-17) (aged 67)
Boston, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Constance Mellon Byers
(m. 1971;div. 1973)

Pamela Braga Drexel
(m. 1976;div. 1991)
ChildrenJohn Carter Brown IV
Elissa Lucinda Brown
Parents John Nicholas Brown II
Education Groton School
Alma mater Harvard University
Harvard Business School
New York University
Occupation Director
Awards National Medal of Arts, Honor Award

John Carter Brown III (October 8, 1934 – June 17, 2002), director of the U.S. National Gallery of Art from 1969 to 1992 and a leading figure in American intellectual life. Under Brown's direction, the National Gallery became one of the leading art museums in the United States, if not the world. He was known as a champion of the arts and public access to art at a time of decreased public spending on the humanities. [1]


Early life

Brown was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on October 8, 1934, to John Nicholas Brown II and Anne Seddon Kinsolving Brown. [2] His family had been prominent since before the American Revolution. His ancestors donated the initial endowment for Brown University and served as professors, administrators, and benefactors of the school in its early years. His father, John Nicholas Brown II, served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (AIR) under President Harry S. Truman. Brown’s parents, both involved in numerous cultural organizations, encouraged their son’s interest in art. [3] Brown was raised in his family's historic home, the Nightingale-Brown House.

As a boy, he attended the Arizona Desert School near Tucson, Arizona, before completing his secondary education at the Groton School in Massachusetts, where he graduated at the top of his class. He spent one year at the Stowe School in England before enrolling at Harvard University. He graduated summa cum laude with a major in History and Literature [4] and was president of the Harvard Glee Club. Seeking a unique entry point into the world of art and culture, Brown decided to pursue a business degree long before "arts management" existed as a common course of study. After completing his M.B.A. at Harvard Business School, he spent a year studying with Harvard-trained art historian Bernard Berenson in Florence, Italy. He then enrolled at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. After completing his master's degree, he decided not to complete a Ph.D. in art history. [5]

In 1961, Brown was hired by the National Gallery of Art as an assistant to the Director, John Walker. He was soon groomed to be Walker’s successor and appointed assistant director in 1964. In this capacity he supervised the construction of the museum's East Building, designed by American architect I. M. Pei. In 1969, at the age of 34, Brown became director of the National Gallery. He would become the longest serving director in the National Gallery's history. [5]

One of Brown's ambitions as director was to attract larger crowds to the nation's art museum. He was known for bringing “blockbuster” exhibitions to the museum. The National Gallery became a rival of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for exhibitions and donations. During his 23 years as director of the National Gallery, he added over 20,000 works to the collection. As many museums and cultural institutions lost public funding, Brown worked with Congress to increase the Gallery's operating budget year after year. He inherited a budget of $3 million in 1969 and increased that to $52 million when he retired in 1992. During the same period, the Gallery's endowment grew from $34 million to $186 million. [6]

Through his high-profile leadership of the National Gallery, Brown became one of the leading public intellectuals in American and the champion of American art. His contacts in Washington politics and New York society aided him in his work at the museum. He also served as a trustee of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, a member of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, and the chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, [7] a review panel that oversees public art and architecture in the nation's capital. [8] In this latter position, he approved the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and an addition to the Corcoran Gallery of Art designed by Frank Gehry, which was never built. He opposed the plan to amend Washington's Height Act to allow for taller buildings, saying President Washington's "vision is unpolluted as yet by the pressures of economic greed.” He also supported the erection of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall, though he described U. S. Marine Corps's Iwo Jima Memorial as "kitsch," comparing the monument to "a great piece of Ivory Soap carved." [5]

In 1991, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. [9] Brown retired in 1992, after the National Gallery’s 50th anniversary. [5]


After leaving the National Gallery in 1992, he became chairman of Ovation, a cable television arts network that furthered his ambition to "bring the arts into people's living rooms.” He remained involved in many cultural organizations, including the Commission of Fine Arts, American Federation of Arts, the National Academy of Design, the Storm King Art Center, and the World Monuments Fund. He continued to serve also as a trustee of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and as chairman of the jury for the Pritzker Prize, the leading award for architecture. In 1993 he was presented with the Honor Award by the National Building Museum at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. [10]

Personal life

In 1971, Brown married Constance Barber (née Mellon) Byers (1941–1983), [11] a daughter of Richard King Mellon, [12] granddaughter of Richard B. Mellon, and the former wife of William Russell Grace Byers. [13] She was also a niece of Paul Mellon, chairman of the National Gallery's Board of Trustees and a major donor. [14] [15] They divorced in 1973. [1]

In 1976, he married Pamela Braga Drexel (1947–2005) in Westminster Abbey, London. She was the daughter of B. Rionda Braga, a Cuban who was involved in the Sugar business, [16] and the former wife of John R. Drexel IV (b. 1945). [17] Before their divorce in 1991, they were the parents of two children: [18]

After their divorce, Pamela remarried to George Lewis Ohrstrom. [20] In August 2000, Carter was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a terminal blood cancer, which was treated with an autologous stem cell transplant. Brown resumed his normal life until May 2002, when he was rehospitalized. He died six weeks later. [21]

Near the end of his life, he became engaged to marry Anne Hawley of Brookline, Massachusetts, Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. He had also begun writing a book about his life and his father’s life. [1]


  1. 1 2 3 Kimmelman, Michael (19 June 2002). "J. Carter Brown, 67, Is Dead; Transformed Museum World". The New York Times . Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  2. Cleveland Amory and Earl Blackwell (1986). Celebrity Register. ISBN   978-0-9615476-0-8 . Retrieved 2011-04-22. John Carter Brown III was born on 8 October 1934 in Providence, RI, a descendant of both the state's founder Roger Williams and the manufacturer/philanthropist who endowed Brown University. ...
  3. Buonanno, Vincent (2002). "Art of the Possible". Brown Alumni Magazine . Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  4. "J. Carter Brown Biography and Interview". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Kastor, Elizabeth (2 April 1992). "CARTER BROWN, PERSONALLY SPEAKING". Washington Post . Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  6. "J Carter Brown". The Telegraph . 20 June 2002. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  7. "U.S. Commission of Fine Arts". Cfa.gov. 2009-05-14. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  8. Thomas E. Luebke, ed., Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013): Appendix B, p. 540.
  9. "Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts". Nea.gov. Archived from the original on April 11, 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  10. "Honor Award". Nbm.org. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  11. "Constance Barber Mellon, 41, Prominent Patron of the Arts". The New York Times. 4 January 1983. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  12. "Richard K. Mellon, Financier, Is Dead". The New York Times. 4 June 1970. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  13. "Constance Mellon Married Here; Banker's Daughter Wed to William R.G. Byers". The New York Times. 27 July 1962. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  14. "J. C. Brown to Marry Mrs. Byers". The New York Times. 24 February 1971. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  15. "Mrs. Byers Wed to J. C. Brown". The New York Times. 18 June 1971. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  16. "B. RIONDA BRAGA". The New York Times. 25 July 1986. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  17. "Notes on People | Director of National Art Gallery to Wed". The New York Times. 24 September 1976. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  18. Mayhew, Augustus (9 January 2014). "Resort Life, Chapter XXXII: Summer 1967". New York Social Diary . Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  19. "National Gallery director has worked nowhere else". Baltimore Sun . March 17, 1991. Retrieved 2011-04-22. Born: Oct. 8, 1934, Providence, R.I. Home: Georgetown in Washington. Family: Separated from second wife, Pamela Drexel Brown. Children: [John Carter Brown IV], 13, and Elissa Lucinda Rionda Brown, 7. Education: B.A., Harvard, 1956; M.B.A., Harvard, 1958; European studies, 1958-1960; M.A., New York University, 1961. Professional: National Gallery of Art, assistant to the director, 1961-'63; assistant director, 1964-'68; deputy director, 1968-'69; director, 1969-present. His favorite painting at the gallery: "I will quote a Baltimore relation, a great-uncle, who used to say about women, `I love them all, but I adore the one I'm with.' It's very hard to choose between your children."
  20. Sullivan, Patricia (9 October 2005). "George L. Ohrstrom Jr. Dies; Virginia Financier, Sportsman". Washington Post . Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  21. Kilian, Michael (June 27, 2002). "Brown left monumental accomplishments". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved 16 November 2017.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Francis Davis Millet American painter and sculptor

Francis Davis Millet was an American academic classical painter, sculptor, and writer who died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912.

National Gallery of Art national art museum in Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art, and its attached Sculpture Garden, is a national art museum in Washington, D.C., located on the National Mall, between 3rd and 9th Streets, at Constitution Avenue NW. Open to the public and free of charge, the museum was privately established in 1937 for the American people by a joint resolution of the United States Congress. Andrew W. Mellon donated a substantial art collection and funds for construction. The core collection includes major works of art donated by Paul Mellon, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Lessing J. Rosenwald, Samuel Henry Kress, Rush Harrison Kress, Peter Arrell Browne Widener, Joseph E. Widener, and Chester Dale. The Gallery's collection of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, medals, and decorative arts traces the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas and the largest mobile created by Alexander Calder.

Jim Dine American artist

Jim Dine is an American pop artist. He is sometimes considered to be a part of the Neo-Dada movement.

National Portrait Gallery (United States) art museum in Washington, D.C.

The National Portrait Gallery is a historic art museum located between 7th, 9th, F, and G Streets NW in Washington, D.C., in the United States. Founded in 1962 and opened to the public in 1968, it is part of the Smithsonian Institution. Its collections focus on images of famous Americans. The museum is housed in the historic Old Patent Office Building, as is the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The two museums are the eponym for the Gallery Place Washington Metro station, located at the corner of F and 7th Streets NW.

Charles Sheeler American painter

Charles Sheeler was an American painter and commercial photographer. He is recognized as one of the founders of American modernism, developing a "quasi-photographic" style of painting known as Precisionism and becoming one of the master photographers of the 20th century.

Eliot Porter American photographer

Eliot Furness Porter was an American photographer best known for his intimate color photographs of nature.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts United States historic place

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, or VMFA, is an art museum in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States, which opened in 1936.

Mel Bochner is an American conceptual artist. Bochner received his BFA in 1962 and honorary Doctor of Fine Arts in 2005 from the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University. He lives in New York City.

Philippe de Montebello is a museum director. He served from 1977 to 2008 as the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. On his retirement, he was both the longest-serving director in the institution's history, and the third longest-serving director of any major art museum in the world. From January 2009, Montebello took up a post as the first Fiske Kimball Professor in the History and Culture of Museums at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts.

Clarence Holbrook Carter born in Portsmouth, Ohio, was an American artist.

Roger Brown (artist) American painter

Roger Brown was an American artist and painter. Often associated with the Chicago Imagist groups, he was internationally known for his distinctive painting style and shrewd social commentaries on politics, religion, and art.

John Hayes (art historian) British art historian and museum director

John Trevor Hayes was a British art historian and museum director. He was an authority on the paintings of Thomas Gainsborough.

David Edward Finley Jr. was an American cultural leader during the middle third of the 20th century. He was the first director of the National Gallery of Art, the founding chairman of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a prime mover in the founding of the National Portrait Gallery, and founding chairman of the White House Historical Association. During the Second World War, Finley led the Roberts Commission, which led the rescue of much of the threatened artworks of Europe.

John Nicholas Brown II was the United States Assistant Secretary of the Navy (AIR) from 1946 to 1949. He was a member of the Brown family that had been active in American life since before the American Revolution and who were the major early benefactors of Brown University.

John Walker (curator) American art curator, and director of the National Gallery of Art

John Walker III was an American art curator, and the second director of the National Gallery of Art, from 1956 to 1969.

Earl A. Powell III Art historian and museum director

Earl Alexander Powell III, nicknamed Rusty Powell, is an American art historian and museum director. From 1980 to 1992, he was Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He was appointed Director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in September 1992. He was appointed to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in 2003 and elected Chair in 2005. He was appointed to a second four-year term on August 30, 2012, and continues to serve as Chair.

Pinkney Near was curator of the Cincinnati Museum of Art and afterward curator of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for thirty years. He was responsible for the VMFA's acquisition of many treasured works of art, including arranging for the museum to purchase from John Lee Pratt the Francisco Goya portrait of General Nicolas Guye and from the collection of Count Karol Lanckoroński of Vienna, Austria, a rare marble sarcophagus dating to the 2nd century B.C. The Guye portrait was long believed to be the most valuable single work of art in the VMFA's collection. The Goya portrait of General Guye is on view prominently in the posthumously created Pinkney Near Gallery at the VMFA.

Olivier Berggruen is a German-American art historian and curator, described by the Wall Street Journal as playing "a pivotal role in the art world."

Anne Seddon Kinsolving Brown was an American historian, socialite, and collector of military memorabilia who married into the prominent Rhode Island Brown family, founders of Brown University.

Mitchell Merling is the Paul Mellon Curator of European Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, succeeding Pinkney L. Near in that position in 2005. In the Mellon Collection he oversees European art from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century, along with French, British sporting art, and American art. In addition, he is the curator of the Gans collection of English silver and oversees the acquisition of the Frank Raysor collection of around 10,000 European and American prints. He previously served as Curator of European Art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.