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Brown, Gerard Baldwin (1849–1932), art historian, was born on 31 October 1849 at 10 Hoxley Road, Kennington, London, the only son of , minister of Brixton Independent Chapel, and his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of William Gerard Leifchild of Moorgate Street and Wanstead and sister of the sculptor . Brown was educated at Uppingham School when Edward Thring was headmaster, and won a scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford, in 1869. He was awarded a second in classical moderations in 1871, and a first in literae humaniores in 1873. In 1874 he was elected to a fellowship at Brasenose College, where one of his colleagues was Walter Pater; he won the chancellor's prize for an English essay entitled ‘The short periods during which art has remained at its zenith in various countries’. He remained at Brasenose until 1877, when he decided that he wanted to become an artist, and went to study painting at the National Art Training School in South Kensington (later the Royal College of Art).

In 1880 Brown was appointed to the new Watson Gordon chair of fine art at Edinburgh University, the first chair in fine art to be established in the British Isles. He later formed the intention of retiring early to devote the rest of his life to writing, and rented a flat near the British Museum, but changed his mind on the outbreak of the First World War, and remained in the post until 1930. On 25 April 1882 he married Maude Annie (d. 1931), daughter of Robert Hull Terrell of Exeter; she illustrated many of his books. The couple had no children.

Although his first lectures at Edinburgh were mainly on Greek art, Brown's first book was From schola to cathedral: a study of early Christian architecture and its relation to the life of the church (1886). His most important work was the six-volume Arts in Early England (1903–37): he was working on the final volume at the time of his death, and it was completed by Eric Hyde (Lord Sexton), in 1937. Brown's other publications include The Fine Arts (1891; 4th edn, 1916), William Hogarth (1905), Rembrandt (1907), The Arts and Crafts of our Teutonic Forefathers (1910), and The Art of the Cave Dweller (1928). He also contributed a number of papers to academic journals; these included ‘The origin of Roman imperial architecture’, a paper read before the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1889.

Brown's approach to art history was a transitional one. He combined a connoisseur's interest in the individual work of art with an appreciation of the craftsmanship involved and attention to the connection between art and its social background. His perspective on his subject contrasted with the theoretical approach which dominated art historical studies by the time of his death. His approach was reflected in his concern for the preservation of ancient monuments. It was after reading Brown's work The Care of Ancient Monuments (1905) that the secretary of state for Scotland in 1908 set up a royal commission to compile an inventory of ancient Scottish monuments; naturally, Brown was appointed a member of this commission.

Brown was awarded the honorary degrees of LLD and DLitt at Edinburgh University, and was elected to an honorary fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford (1923) and to a fellowship of the British Academy (1924). Very fit and active, he loved cycling and climbing mountains, and visited cave paintings in France and Spain when he was nearly eighty. He died at his home, 18 Atholl Crescent, Edinburgh, on 12 July 1932, and was cremated at Warriston, Edinburgh, on 16 July.

D. T. Rice, rev. Anne Pimlott Baker

Sources  

G. Macdonald, ‘Gerard Baldwin Brown, 1849–1932’, PBA, 21 (1935), 375–84 · Foster, Alum. Oxon. · Oxford University Calendar (1874) · Oxford University Calendar (1875) · The Times (14 July 1932) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert. · personal knowledge (1949) · private information (1949)

Archives  

U. Edin. L., corresp. and papers


Likenesses  

C. d'O. P. Jackson, bronze bust, 1930, U. Edin. · W. Hole, etching, NPG; repro. in W. B. Hole, Quasi cursores: portraits of the high officers and professors of the University of Edinburgh at its tercentenary festival (1884)

Wealth at death  

£9482 7s. 9d.: Scottish confirmation sealed in London, 16 Sept 1932, CGPLA Eng. & Wales