Brown was among the hundreds of academic English artists working in the U.S. during the mid-nineteenth century. He was in New York by 1837, and exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1840. Brown moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 1846, commissioned by editor of the Richmond Whig & Public Advertiser to paint a life-size portrait of Zachary Taylor in Monterey, Mexico.
Brown exhibited his portraits of Taylor in Philadelphia, Richmond, and New Orleans. The New Orleans Daily Picayune noted that while it was not possible to see General Taylor until November, "A very accurate likeness has been taken of him by Mr. Brown." Visitors paid a fee of 25 cents to see the general's likeness. A "Gold medal for Rio Grande Victories," authorized by an act of Congress in July 1846, is based on one of Brown's portraits. Back in Richmond, Brown focused on portraits of political and business leaders, including one of Jefferson Davis said to be his widow's favorite
General Zachary Taylor
William Garl Brown, Jr.
Oil on canvas, 36 x 29 1/8 inches
Louisiana State Museum, Gift of Hugh Thompson Flynn, 02686
Taylor and his men made Brown welcome. The artist stayed for months, creating several portraits and at least one camp scene - General Taylor's Headquarters at Walnut Springs, after the Battle of Buena Vista, now at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
Zachary Taylor was born in 1784 in Orange County, Virginia. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1807, and was posted in New Orleans the following year. He later served in Minnesota and Florida. In 1846, with a loose Congressional authorization, Taylor led an invading force into Mexico, claiming territory north the Rio Grande for the U.S. He captured Monterey, and defeated a superior army led by Santa Ana at the Buena Vista in February 1847.
Taylor returned to his plantation in Baton Rouge in November 1847 to begin a presidential bid. As nominee for the Whig party - supported by Southern slaveholders - Taylor defeated Democrat Lewis Cass, and took office as the 13th president on March 5, 1849. A slave owner himself, he lost support among Southern Whigs for failing to support extension of slavery into the Mexican territory. Taylor died on July 4, 1850, a few days after laying the cornerstone for the Washington Monument. At the time, the press speculated that immoderate consumption of cold water, cherries and milk in the July heat led to his demise.