Today, the library and it’s portraits capture five generations of Brown family history. John Carter Brown added this room to the Nightingale-Brown House in 1864 to house his library. He commissioned New York architect Richard Upjohn to design this fireproof structure, and the firm of Carpenter and Childs built it at a cost of $4,000.
Originally, floor-to-ceiling bookcases lined the walls and housed the library’s well-known Americana collection, books printed in and concerning the Americas prior to 1800. John Carter Brown was a passionate book collector, hiring a librarian to compile a printed catalogue of his almost 6,500 titles. John Carter Brown’s eldest son John Nicholas Brown I, shared his father’s passion for Americana, and the collection totaled 13,000 volumes at his death in 1900. In 1904, John Carter Brown’s daughter-in-law and grandson, John Nicholas Brown II, established a new library in his honor on the Main Green of Brown University and all the books were moved there. You can visit the John Carter Brown Library today.
When John Nicholas Brown II returned here to live and married Anne Seddon Kinsolving, they turned the library into a place for family gatherings and musical performances. The final generation of the Brown family to live in the house remember this room, when the walls were covered in red damask, as place to host chamber music concerts and the family Christmas tree.
This room is important for its portraits of the Brown family across generations. On the wall next to the garden are eighteenth century portraits of distant Brown family members by Joseph Blackburn. A portrait of Nicholas Brown II, the namesake of Brown University, painted by Chester Harding in 1836, hangs above the fireplace. Smaller portraits of John Carter Brown and his family hang on the opposite wall. Have you noticed the charming boy in the white sailor suit? Natalie Bayard Brown commissioned this portrait of her son, John Nicholas Brown II, in 1905 and we pair it with Gardner Cox’s portrait of the same person in 1967.
Chameli JIA Xiaomeng, Cultural Management Program, MA, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2016