By Gov. Morehead’s invitation, William Garl Browne, Jr. first came to Blandwood in the 1850s to paint some of the Morehead family members. Before this, Browne had a long history of portrait painting throughout the United States and abroad. William Garl Browne Jr. was born in England in 1823. He moved to New York with his father, a landscape painter, in about 1837. After exhibiting a portrait at the National Academy in 1840, he set out to Virginia to begin his life as a Southern portraitist. By 1847, Browne traveled south to Texas, painting known leaders including Zachary Taylor. As the artist traveled back to Virginia, members of wealthy and influential families in the Carolinas and Virginia invited Browne to immortalize them on canvas.
Browne’s portfolio prominently features many North Carolinians. This is perhaps due to the scarceness of portraitist in the state during the mid-nineteenth century, as well as North Carolians’ continued interest in the eithteenth-century Grand Manner portrait style. Although, he would not be considered a top-tier portraitist of the 1800s in most art history circles, Browne’s Grand Manner style, featuring dark backgrounds or bunched red fabrics with classical architecture, and his European background appealed to many powerful leaders and families throughout North Carolina. To Browne’s patrons, the portraits reflected their status and influence in North Carolina politics and society.