George Brookshaw was born in Birmingham in 1751 and died in London in 1823.
George Brookshaw and his brother trained as artisans. Apprenticed in his youth to Samuel Troughton, a Birmingham painter and ‘japanner’, George ran away in 1767. Nothing else is known of these formative years.
In 1778 he married the daughter of a wealthy Birmingham gunsmith, and around the same time he established a London workshop. He mainly made painted and stove-japanned furniture for the top ranks of society.
In the mid 1790s Brookshaw’s personal circumstances changed once again, and he left the furniture trade for good. Ever resourceful, he used his draughtsman’s skills to become a professional botanical illustrator.
Innovative techniques such as ‘stoved-japanning’ were in high demand in 18th-century Britain, with its interest in science and its desire to reduce luxury imports. Most manufacturing workshops were based in Birmingham, but Brookshaw decided to set up in London, within reach of wealthy clients.
He attracted many distinguished patrons. Described on a 1783 bill to the Prince of Wales as ‘Peintre-ebeniste par Extraordinaire’, Brookshaw had the sophistication and superior skills that were associated with French design. His reputation was such that he shared prestigious commissions with the likes of the famous architect and designer Robert Adam.
Brookshaw was a highly skilled painter, excelling in botanical decoration as well as figurative and landscape designs. By 1788 he had developed a particular speciality, advertising in the London press his ‘New Fashioned Elegant Chimney Pieces with Copper Panels, elegantly painted’. The chimney-piece for Piercefield Park is a good surviving example, supplied as part of a large commission including furniture.
Being commercially minded, Brookshaw recognised that his reputation rested on innovative techniques. He described his work as a ‘new species of painting’ but was careful not to reveal his methods. Working on a commission in Hanover Square, he painted behind locked doors.
In his Great Marlborough Street workshop Brookshaw sold ‘candilabriums’ and mirror frames, as well as executing commissions for furniture. Payment for commissions could be unpredictable, so the sale of stock products helped spread financial risk.
Around 1795 scandal or a financial dispute seems to have ended Brookshaw’s furniture career, but he adapted his artistic skills to botanical illustration. Under the alias John or G. Brown, he wrote and illustrated painting manuals and taught flower painting to ladies.
Pomona Britannica was published from 1804, under his own name. An ambitious book of hand-coloured aquatints illustrating 256 species of British fruit, it was dedicated to the Prince Regent.