Olaf Martinius Brauner, painter, sculptor and educator, was born in Christiania, Norway in 1869. He received his early training as an artist from his father, Julius F. Brauner, one of the most celebrated engravers in Norwegian art history. As a young man, he came to the Boston area and enrolled first at the Massachusetts Normal School and then at the School of Art at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There he studied under William Morris Hunt and Otto Grundmann and with fellow students Childe Hassam, Frank Benson & Edmund Tarbell. It was from these gentlemen that he learned of Celia Thaxter’s summer artist’s colony on Appledore Island at the Isles of Shoals located off of the New Hampshire Seacoast.
Appledore hosted a colony of artists, musicians & poets with a preference for the freshest avant garde talent. Brauner was honored with a seasonal cottage by the Thaxter family at Appledore, alongside cottages for Childe Hassam & Appleton Brown. It is on these sparsely inhabited islands that Brauner made some of his finest paintings in the Boston School Impressionist style. He was also stimulated by the salon of fellow creative artists. Edward MacDowell, the first prominent American composer, was a frequent visitor, as were writers John Greenleaf Whittier and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Celia Thaxter was fond of Brauner, and because of her financial success as a writer, she was able to sponsor him as a seasonal visitor.
In 1896 Olaf Brauner was invited to join the Faculty at Cornell University, initially in the Department of Architecture, but ultimately he became the founder of the Fine Art Department. Brauner remained at Cornell for 41 years, retiring in 1937. His primary works were portraits and seascapes (often at the Shoals…) but he also medaled as a sculptor. Cornell University has many of his portraits, including Celia Thaxter. His works also hang at the Yale University Art Gallery, The Corcoran Gallery, and in the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College. Brauner’s works have been exhibited at the National Academy of Design, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Boston Art Club, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Brauner’s daughter Gertrude married into the prominent S.C. Johnson family and his descendants continue to hold many of his better paintings.
Olaf Brauner was an important figure in American Art History primarily for his contribution in founding and nurturing one of the first Fine Art programs in a university setting. He was instrumental in getting nascent artists Childe Hassam, Frank Benson, Robert Henri, George Bellows, Willard Metcalf and William Glackens to exhibit their works at Cornell, and then in New York City with William MacBeth Galleries. He helped promote many of those who have become the most celebrated artists of their era.
In 1983, The Herbert Johnson Museum at Cornell and the Indianapolis Museum of Art jointly presented an artist’s retrospective exhibition of more than 50 works with catalog entitled The Art of Olaf M. Brauner, 1869-1947