William Mason Brown was born in Troy, New York. We know little of his childhood circumstances except that he studied with the portraitist Abel Buell Moore and began his career as a portrait painter himself. In his early twenties, Brown moved to Newark, New Jersey, and took up landscape painting. Eight years later, he settled in Brooklyn, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Brown belongs to the second generation of Hudson River School painters. His landscapes showcase finely detailed foregrounds, low horizons, and large skies. The eye for detail that Brown lent to his foregrounds he soon lent as well to the painting of still lifes. Many of Brown’s still lifes were copied to lithographs and sold in large quantities.
Brown was active in the artistic life of Brooklyn. He was one of the founders, in 1859, of what became the Brooklyn Art Association. In 1866, he worked with fellow artist William Hart to found the Brooklyn Academy of Design.