Brown & Campbell Collection


(excerpted from: The Brown and Campbell Collection Catalogue, Inexorable Press, 2009)

The paintings in the Brown and Campbell Collection are those by William Addison Campbell and Frank Julian Brown that were found in their home at the time of Frank Brown's death in April of 2000. The two men had lived and worked together since 1946, following World War II. Prior to the war, William Campbell had been married briefly to Bernice Mae Irwin whom he divorced after the war. When William Campbell died in 1985, the two men had been together for 39 years and Campbell left all that was his, including his paintings, to Frank Brown.


Fig. 3
Brown and Campbell Residence Dolores Heights,
San Francisco, Calif.

Photo by Morley Baer [1]

On Sunday, April 16, 2000, after calling Frank Brown twice with no answer, I went to his house on Dolores Heights above Noe Valley in San Francisco. I rang the bell several times, then let myself in with keys he had given me years earlier. In the past, I had done this always to find him alive and well, ignoring phone calls as was his way.

Once inside, I called Frank's name and scanned into each room on either side of the central hallway that led from the front door to the kitchen at the back of the house. When I got to the kitchen, I looked into the large back yard visible through the rear windows expecting to find Frank there. Seeing no one, I looked to the right, and saw Frank lying face down on the floor, his head turned to the left, his left leg bent at the knee.

I shuddered, called his name and knelt beside him. I touched his forehead with the back of my fingers. He was cold. I called 911, collected myself, then went outside and told my wife Judith, who had stayed in the car when we arrived.

Shortly, the fire department ambulance arrived and then the police. The paramedic ushered me outside, saying it was mandatory. Moments later he came out and told me Frank Brown was dead. The coroner arrived a bit later and said he had been dead for at least 48 hours.

After Frank died, despite knowing both men since 1970, I began to understand for the first time that both Brown and Campbell were artists. In their Victorian home with its tall ceilings, there were paintings on the walls — mostly landscapes — but not many, and they fought for space and notice with everything from antique tapestries to wild-life taxidermy.

William Campbell did tell my wife Judith and me in the '70s without elaborating, that he was once a student at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute), but did not paint anymore. "I let him (Frank) paint," he mock-whispered, a wide grin through his white beard, his eyes lighting up. My own impression was that Frank painted as a hobby and was pretty darned good at it, but he never talked about it — at all.

It was only after looking throughout the house and actually seeing the scope and quantity of their work that I realized how serious they were about painting. It was then that I thought about publishing a catalogue of their work, though not because of the art in and of itself. The merit of the work I'll leave to each to decide. Clearly, they knew how to paint, and in specific paintings they had their moments. What they painted over the years and how they painted it may have some historical relevance insomuch that they did not follow the overwhelming influence that San Francisco Abstract Expressionism became in the late 1940s and beyond.

But while hopefully interesting, neither the content nor the art context of their paintings is the primary concern here. Instead, the purpose of this catalogue remains what it was at its very beginning, not only as a modest gesture of gratitude to "Bill and Frank" for their kindness and generosity to our family both while they were alive and when they passed on, but also as a tribute to how they lived and died, committed to each other and to their art.

To me, they were truly artists, for they did their art in obscurity, incapable of not doing it. George Post, the noted California watercolorist and his longtime companion Elvin Fowler visited Campbell and Brown with some regularity for almost 20 years. Mr. Fowler told me recently, "We didn't even know that Frank painted at all."

At the outset, the intention was to attempt a book of art, a catalogue for the collection, rather than an art book. Along the way there were diversions into other possible approaches. At one point, a traditional art book with selected works, an experienced art book editor, contributions by established art professionals, book designers, etc, was initiated, and an editor employed. Eventually those options retreated and the original plan was followed: a catalogue with color images of all the works by both artists found in the collection at the time of Frank Brown's death. The chronological periods were chosen as the most natural presentation despite some difficulty with the dearth of actually dated paintings.

Initially, we thought there were two hundred, perhaps three hundred or so paintings for which a catalogue could be produced with manageable effort and expense. As their large house began to be cleared of forty-five years of accumulation by the two men, antique collectors both, paintings were found everywhere. Their tall, peaked roof attic ran the length and width of the house, with many dark nooks, angles and corners. It eventually yielded over four hundred more paintings, many disguised, being off the stretchers and in rolls of twenty or so. Many other flat works were found in boxes. The last painting was found in February 2008, bringing the total to 793. The manageable effort became a voracious project whose favorite food was time, and which, not unlike their attic, had its own dark nooks, angles and corners.

Although we had known William Campbell for 15 years when he died in 1985,and Frank Brown for 30 years when he died in 2000, we really knew very little about them personally. They were very private people. Through their few papers that remained, and through personal research, I came to know more about them in death than in life. Still, much remains obscured.

We do know that William Campbell was part of the San Francisco art movement before and after World War II. He had studied at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) in the 1930s, and had exhibited at the then-fledgling San Francisco Museum of Art in its inaugural year of 1935. Three one-man shows there in the early 1940s followed. He also taught before and after the war, at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.

During World War II, he spent two years in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy, seeing combat aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington. After the war, he returned to teaching at the College of Arts and Crafts where Frank Brown was a postwar student who had come to San Francisco from his hometown in Portland, Oregon after discharge. Brown was also in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy from 1942-46.

After the war, they both painted, much of the work during time spent in Mexico, from 1946 - 48. Campbell, as earlier stated, "let" Frank Brown paint after 1950. Aside from two paintings done in the late 1950s — interior scenes of their recently purchased home, one with Frank Brown in it — there are no Campbell paintings in the collection from 1950 until 1980.

In the mid-to-late-1950s, the two painters left the art community. All I know about why they left is an allusion by William Campbell in the early 1970s about Frank Brown having clashed with a critic. I have been unable to find out more.

Campbell did resume painting in 1980, leaving 16 post-1980 paintings, the last dated painting being 1983, two years before he died.

Over the years, both painters worked in a diversity of styles. For Frank Brown there are illustrations, "big feet" paintings in the Diego Rivera style, traditional still lifes, landscapes and figuratives, as well as cubist, abstract, fantasy, and surreal works. There are also six small works (e.g., #B4024#B4029)[2] that have the George Post composition, perspective and influence from his study with Mr. Post in the post- WWII 1940s at the California College of Arts and Crafts.

William Campbell's work ranged from early muted-palette still lifes, to vibrant Mexican landscapes; from traditional figuratives and nudes, both male and female, to surreal/abstract forms and renderings, some as social commentary. Included are four quirky, irregular shaped paintings from the early 1940s (#C4025#C4028)[3] two of which are of unknown anthropo-zoomorphic like species (#C4026, #C4028). Nude, C4026, is one of those mentioned in a review by Albert Frankenstein in the San Francisco Chronicle on February 15, 1942, who noted the irregular shape.[4]

Both painters settled into what was most comfortable for them in their last years. Campbell's 16 paintings in the early 1980s, shortly before he died, were traditional, absent of the early surreal, quirky, and abstract approaches. Notable in the group is the small self-portrait of himself, Fig. 1, Intro. (#C8001) in Scottish attire with sash, full white beard and tam o'shanter, ready for his coming final journey. I look at it and can almost hear the sound of pipes playing in the distance.

After William Campbell died in 1985, Frank Brown turned almost exclusively to painting landscapes, 16 of which are signed and dated to the 1990s. The trustees have attributed 111 paintings signed by Frank Brown, but not dated, to the 1990s. Another 11 paintings, neither signed or dated, have been attributed to Frank Brown for the period.


Fig. 4
The upstairs studio as it was when Frank Brown died in (center) and boxes at left, of which there were several, almost with 16 x 20 in. landscapes.

Photo by Jordan Goodman/The Daily Planet Antiques

The confidence to attribute such a large number of undated paintings to this period is due in part because they were found in the upstairs studio in cardboard boxes, almost all 16 x 20 in., almost all landscapes, and the boxes were stacked close to the easel in a very cluttered studio (Fig. 4, p. iii). There was no painting on the easel.

Four more paintings are signed and dated in the last three and one-half months of his life in 2000. All except nine of the 132 paintings in the 1990s are landscapes that reflect a serenity arrived at by an acceptance of how alone he felt with the loss of his lifelong companion.

Of the 793 paintings in the collection, 414 are signed by Frank Brown with 41 dated; 124 are signed by William Campbell with 57 having dates; 255 are neither signed nor dated. Most of the unsigned paintings are easily attributed to Frank Brown (197), with the remainder (58) attributed to William Campbell. Many of Frank Brown's paintings are difficult to date.

The 98 paintings that are dated by the artists were useful in dating others. Also, when the trustees visited Campbell and Brown in 1972 and thereafter, they remember paintings that were on the walls of the home, so this was also helpful with dating. Overall, accuracy of the attributions was the goal but, admittedly, assigning and/or dating of some paintings was less than certain. Attributions will be discussed further in the text of the chapters.


Fig. 5
Trustees Dexter and Judith Garnier purchased a two-unit "frontier Victorian" on Chula Lane in San Francisco from William Campbell and Frank Brown in 1983. (See Ch. 5, p. 91; Ch. 6, p. 111.) The four are shown here, left to right, after the closing.

The writer is responsible for all images, text, and content in the catalogue, except for the William Campbell San Francisco Museum of Art Exhibition History[5], which was graciously prepared for the collection by Head Librarian Barbara Rominski, of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. All photographs were taken in the driveway of the artist's former home between two tall exterior walls in the early morning hours to avoid glare ruining the pictures. It would have been best to have them done in a proper studio by a professional. Resources, opportunity, and wherewithal, disallowed that.

Nonetheless, I hope that what is presented here meets with the attention of the viewer and reader as a worthwhile effort, at least successful in its intent as a modest gesture.

It needs to be noted that the writer is hardly an expert in art in general or in San Francisco art and its movements specifically. Three books were used to educate and inform regarding both subjects to help prepare this catalogue. Here is bibliography of these three outstanding books, each of which provides a different perspective for their surveys:

  • Landauer, Susan. The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism w/an introduction by Dore Ashton. Exhibition catalogue Laguna Beach: Laguna Art Museum; Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Jones, Caroline A. Bay Area Figurative Art, 1950-1965. Exhibition catalogue San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Berkeley and Los Angeles; University of California Press, 1990.
  • Albright, Thomas. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-1980: An Illustrated History. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985.

Many have been helpful along the way. Whether or not association with the efforts of the writer and the artists is one they would choose to have is uncertain, but their contributions helped our efforts and merit gratitude. Thanks are extended to the following: My dog Pilot, Ali Jacob Garnier, Jesse and Miles Garnier, Elvin Fowler, Shelley Post, Jeff Gunderson, Marisa Mizono, Tim James, Elisa Tanaka, Terry Larue, Lindsay Kefauver, Ann and Paul Karlstrom, Peter Fairbanks, Adrian Fish and "Mr. Hoover," Richard "Luckey" Perri, Lori Shantzis, George Krevsky, Stephen Vincent, Lost Art Salon, Richard Kamler, Ed Rosenthal, Kate Ellison and "Stella," Chris Grassano, Ken and Cherie Fehrman, Jan Salaman, Sylvia Sandoval, Mary Louise Beecroft, Arlene Pichotta, Kyle Painter, Peter Limnios, Jane Chamberlin, Doug Elliot, Andressa Garcia, Chad Keig, Carol Sklenicka, Deborah Robbins, and my wife, Judith Garnier. There are undoubtedly some not listed who should be. Mea Culpa. My genuine appreciation goes to all, with special thanks to Barbara Rominski, Head Librarian and Archivist of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, whose patience and kindness towards an inexperienced researcher fumbling through her archives was so much appreciated, and to the Leo and Florence Holub family for their quiet encouragement and support at a time when it was so very much needed.

Some Numbers

793 total paintings.
611 Signed or attributed to F. Brown
414 F. Brown, signed.
197 unsigned, attributed to F. Brown.
182 Signed or attributed to W. Campbell
124 W. Campbell, signed.
58 unsigned, attributed to W. Campbell (1 unsigned painting, #C4012, has exhibit label on back).
41 Brown, signed and dated.
57 Campbell, signed and dated.
255 total unsigned.

Painted on both sides:

1. #B4057/#B5088 10. #B5036/#B6031
2. #B4075/#B4113 11. #B5037/#B8058
3. #B4095/#B5021 12. #B5039/#B5069
4. #B5004/#B5035 13. #B5058/#B5061
5. #B5012/#B7017 14. #B6001/#B7032
6. #B5015/#B5067 15. #B6004/#B6014
7. #B5016/#B5017 16. #CL4016/#CL4018
8. #B5023/#B5084 17. #CL4019/#CL4024
9. #B5083/#B6032 18. #C8014/#C8016

Frank Julian Brown

1940s – 131 total
3 signed and dated.
57 signed, undated, attributed to c. late 1940s, by trustees.
70 unsigned, undated, attributed to F. Brown, c. late 40s, by trustees.
1 unsigned, attributed to F. Brown, c. mid 1940s.

1950s – 88 total
0 signed and dated (2 with exhibit labels dated 1955).
37 Brown signed, not dated, attributed to c. 1950s by trustees.
2 signed, undated, attributed to c. 1955 by trustees.
49 unsigned, undated, attributed to F. Brown, c. 1950s.

1960s – 58 total
1 signed and dated.
31 signed, undated, attributed to c. 1960s by trustees.
26 unsigned, undated, attributed to c. 1960s, by trustees.

1970s – 129 total
7 signed and dated.
86 signed, undated, attributed to c. 1970s, by trustees.
36 unsigned, undated, attributed to c. 1970s, by trustees.

1980s – 69 total
10 signed and dated.
54 signed, undated, attributed to 1980s, by trustees.
1 signed, c. late 1980s, by trustees.
4 unsigned, undated, attributed to c. 1980s, by trustees.

1990s – 132 total
16 signed and dated.
107 signed, undated, attributed to c. 1990s, by trustees.
9 unsigned, undated, attributed to c. 1990s, by trustees.

4 signed and dated.

William Addison Campbell

1930s – 22 total
4 signed and dated.
8 signed, undated, attributed to c. 1930s by trustees.
10 unsigned, undated, attributed to W. Campbell, c. 1930s.

Early 1940s – 33 total
3 signed and dated.
21 signed, undated, attributed to c. early 1940s.
9 unsigned, undated, attributed to c. early 1940s. (includes #C4012: unsigned, undated but with exhibit label on back.)

Late 1940s – 109 total
45 signed and dated
31 signed, undated, attributed to c. late 1940s.
33 unsigned, undated, attributed to c. late 1940s.

2 unsigned, undated, attributed to W. Campbell, c. 1950s, by trustees.

1980s – 16 total
5 signed and dated.
5 signed, undated, attributed to W. Campbell, c. 1980s.
6 unsigned, undated, attributed to W. Campbell, c. 1980.


  • ^ Michael Larsen & Elizabeth Pomada, Painted Ladies: San Francisco's Resplendent Victorians, E.P. Dutton, New York, NY, 1978.
  • ^ See Ch. 1, catalogue section, pp. 43, 44.
  • ^ See Ch. 1, catalogue section, p. 14.
  • ^ See Ch. 1, p. 7, for full text of review.
  • ^ William Addison Campbell, Jr.: Chronological Exhibition History from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), compiled February 2007 by Barbara Rominski, the Head Librarian (See Appendix A for full document).