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The Colleen Browning Collection

WOW Car, 1977


Picture of a Painting of the Great Circus Parade, 1988

Painter Colleen Browning was a member of the Magic Realist group that includes Paul Cadmus, Jared French, George Tooker, and Robert Vickrey.  Adding to earlier gifts from the artist, the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in 2006 received a major bequest of Browning’s artwork and personal memorabilia from the estate of her late husband, Geoffrey Wagner.  To date, the Museum has accessioned more than 100 paintings and drawings to its permanent collection.  Objects range from early student work made in England during the 1930s to some of her last paintings, executed shortly before her death in 2003.  In the collection are examples of the artist’s best-known work, including her images of Harlem and the New York subway.  Attesting to the diversity of Browning’s oeuvre, there are also landscapes, figure studies, and a series of quasi-abstract compositions based on scrambled TV signals.   Other works include mural studies, stage set designs, and book illustrations.

Browning studied at the Slade School of Art in London and commenced her career as a designer of costumes and stage sets.  Her first solo exhibition was held in 1949 at London’s Little Gallery; shortly afterward, she married English novelist Geoffrey Wagner.  Wagner’s career brought the couple to the United States, and after settling in New York City, Browning showed her paintings of Harlem street scenes to early acclaim.  During the 1950s, her work was acquired by several American museums and featured in a number of national exhibitions.  Settling into a routine of painting and exhibiting her work, Browning enjoyed a successful career despite the prevalence of Abstract Expressionism and other nonobjective styles during the 1960s and 1970s.  In later years, she painted some of her largest and most complex canvases, including Iguassu III, Jubilee, and Picture of a Painting of the Great Circus Parade.