Robert R. Browne Jr., a longtime Baltimore teacher and artist who was known for his seascapes, landscapes, nudes and portraits, died Nov. 15 from esophageal cancer at Oak Crest Village retirement community in Parkville. He was 91.
The son of Robert Reid Browne, an import-export businessman, and Mary Byrd Barclay Browne, a homemaker, Robert Reid Browne was born and raised in Norfolk, Va.
Mr. Browne’s interest in art began when he was a child. He received inspiration and guidance from his maternal grandfather, McKee Barclay, a noted early-20th-century Baltimore Sun political cartoonist, and later a Baltimore advertising executive.
His boyhood home was near the Elizabeth River and close to the Chesapeake Bay, which provided artistic inspiration. The Eastern Shore, Atlantic beaches and ships also became backdrops for his work.
He was also interested in the human figure, and attended his first art class with a live model when he was 12 years old.
He graduated from Matthew Fontaine Maury High School in Norfolk. After serving in the Army as a military policeman, Mr. Browne moved to Baltimore. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1952 from the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he was influenced by his instructor, Jacques Maroger, a noted portrait painter who was a proponent of the Old Masters’ classical-realist style.
At the start of his career, Mr. Browne worked as a courtroom artist for a Baltimore television station and as a professional model.
For more than 50 years, he painted and taught students in his studio, which he converted from a garage behind his Victorian home on Walker Avenue near Anneslie.
“It had a pot belly-stove for heating and a big pile of wood on the side for burning. The studio was lit by a skylight that had a thin layer of moss which provided the perfect lighting for his paintings,” John Henderlite, a nephew who lives in Gettysburg, Pa., wrote in a profile of Mr. Browne.
He was an avid collector of driftwood, bones, coral encrusted tools, seashells and old fishermen’s nets, which he had collected from the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. The items, used as props for his paintings, filled his studio.
The room also contained easels and chairs for his students, as well as several ship models.
Following the technique of Mr. Maroger, he ground his own pigments, and on the pot-bellied stove cooked the oil in which the paints were mixed.
Mr. Browne described himself in 1978 Sun Magazine article as a “token realist” whose work reflected “abstract and impressionistic influences.”
“Mr. Browne is known primarily for his paintings of seascapes, working boats on the Chesapeake Bay, sand dunes, marshy rivers and figure studies,” said a 1968 Baltimore Sun article.
He had a set routine that he shared with his wife, the former Joan deSparre, whom he married in 1954. He could be found each Wednesday roaming the Maryland countryside and back roads looking for inspiration and materials to incorporate into his work.
“The discovery of an old gnarled tree was gold for him and was even better if found near an aging barn or boat,” his nephew wrote.
He also sailed through Tidewater Maryland aboard a boat, Joanie, gathering painting ideas.
Through the years, Mr. Browne exhibited his work at many shows and at the Twenty-Sixth Street Art Mart Gallery, the gallery at Baltimore Junior College, Valley Gallery, Collective Impressions Ltd., Tyson Street Open House and other venues.
The Morning Sun Newsletter
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.