David Brownsworth was an artist active in Skipton, North Yorkshire, during the second half of the 19th century. The surviving works that remain show he executed a number of different subjects, including still life, but worked professionally as a portrait artist.
Brownsworth attended the Birkenhead School of Art in his younger years. This school, as well many others set up by the government across the country, was intended to allow more people to receive an artistic education. Up until this point, art education had been mainly kept to the revered and hallowed halls of the Royal Academy, to which acceptance was extremely difficult. With an increase in appreciation of the arts from the government, encouraged by Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, however, an artistic career was offered to more people than ever - including Brownsworth.
Advertisements can often be found in local newspapers for his showroom in Skipton, where he settled with his wife, Sophia. He promotes his portraits in oil as well as other mediums including crayon. Brownsworth’s remaining works certainly show an aptitude and understanding of perspective and composition. A still life of grapes set against an autumnal, ochre background are eerily lifelike. The waxy sheen of the grapes’ skins gleams as they bunch together on a spiney stalk. Hues of bruised greens vary in shade depending on the falling light and the consuming shadows.
Despite Brownsworth’s skill, it seems that the technological developments of the 19th century were putting his career in peril. The rise of photography saw a gradual decline in the commissioning of portrait paintings. Not only did Brownsworth also offer framing, restoring and cleaning services for existing artworks, but he also worked as a photographer. It seems he had to learn a new craft to keep up with his passion.
There was also a way, however, in which photography could benefit his art. He also advertised for portraits to be made from paintings. Perhaps this could have been as a gift for a loved one, or for an occasion such as a death, where a commemorative portrait might prove a heartfelt tribute.
It's clear Brownsworth had a passion for art. As well as continuing to strive at a time when photography was coming to dominate, he also revitalised the portrait club in Skipton. There is also evidence to show he was often helping out with the painting for local projects such as scenic design for a girl’s school’s Shakespearean production. It seems Brownsworth was keen to use his artistic skills to benefit the local community.
Born in Birkenhead, Cheshire.
Received certificate of education in freehand drawing from the Birkenhead School of Art.
Married Sophia Fowler.