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Maker(s):Brown, James
Culture:American (active 1806-1808)
Title:portrait: General William Towner
Date Made:1806
Materials:oil on canvas
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; Williamstown
Accession Number:  HD 2016.24.1
Credit Line:John W. and Christiana G.P. Batdorf Fund
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

Portrait of General William Towner of Williamstown, Massachusetts, by the artist James Brown (active 1806-1808). William Towner (1756-1812) was born in New Fairfield, Connecticut, the son of Zacheus (1729-1814) and his wife. William Towner and Lurana (or Luranna) Chadwick (1773-1841) married between 1795 and 1800; his first wife Elizabeth (Betsey) Ramsdell died in 1795. William Towner relocated to Williamstown by 1787. The general is painted in full military dress with sword seated in a sack-back Windsor chair. Canvas verso, paint inscription, in brown, at upper left: “ Gen Towner Æ 48” Canvas verso, paint inscription, in brown, at center right: “J Brown Pinx/ Oct 10th 1806” (The number 6 in the date is beneath the strainer bar.) Canvas verso, in red chalk, at center right: “Restored by/ M.M. Resta 1955” Currently in a modern frame. This portrait is paired with his wife, Lurana Chadwick Towner (see HD 2016.24.2) The artist James Brown, who produced at least seven signed works, was largely unknown until an article by Elizabeth V. Warren called "The Mystery of J. Brown" was published in Folk Art, in the Fall 1998. There is speculation that Ammi Phillips studied under Brown in the early 19th century. According to Colleen Cowles Heslip, in her chapter on James Brown in "Between the Rivers, “J. Brown’s method of working [began] with the application of a thin red lead ground, which can be seen penetrating to the reverse of the primary support. He would then apply a thin gray tinted oil paint as an imprimatur layer.” The portraits descended through the Towner family, and then to the current owners from their aunt Betty Schwinn, whose mother Ruth Freed married John F. Towner late in life.

Label Text:
Trained as a physician and surgeon, General William Towner (1756-1813) was depicted in full military dress (including sword) to reflect his position in the new nation’s army. Seated in a sack-back Windsor chair, near the conclusion of his career, Towner’s likeness is one of just seven known, signed works by James Brown, who may have trained the more prolific itinerant artist Ammi Phillips (1788-1865).


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