Alexander Brook was a major proponent of American Realism during the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. He was born to Russian émigré parents in Brooklyn, New York and developed an interest in art while recuperating from polio at the age of twelve. At seventeen, he signed up for classes at the Art Students League in Manhattan and studied there for the next four years; later, Brook would serve on the school's faculty, where his students included Joseph Delaney among others.
Early in his career, while developing his personal style, Brook wrote articles for art journals to supplement his income. He eventually became the assistant director of the Whitney Studio Club, later known as the Whitney Museum of Art, where he worked to promote contemporary, representational art. Brook built a solid reputation for himself during the twenties and thirties with his genre scenes and portraits painted in a realistic manner, winning several important awards.
In 1938, Brook traveled south to Savannah, Georgia and found the city to be a great source of inspiration. He returned in 1940 and moved into a studio housed in a former cotton warehouse on the Riverfront. He lived in the town, off and on, over the next decade, executing some of his best work there. One of his paintings showing an impoverished, African American shantytown on the outskirts of Savannah won first place at the Carnegie Exposition in 1939. Throughout his career, Brook tended to favor melancholy subjects saying, “I find . . . that I am more concerned, both sympathetically and aesthetically with the simpler and sadder things about me.” This interest is reflected in the dark palette of grays and browns that Brook often used to convey emotion in his paintings.
Following his military service in World War II, Brook returned to Savannah with his wife, Gina Knee, who was also an artist. Though his palette and subjects were often somber, Brook was known to be a friendly and outgoing individual. Brook and Knee divided their time between New York and Savannah, and their home became a gathering place for local artists and their friends, including Hattie Saussy. Brook painted many portraits and genre scenes for his own pleasure as well as commissioned paintings during his time in Georgia. The couple also actively supported the area's local causes, including the theater and library. While living in Savannah, Brook exhibited his work, wrote articles for art publications and produced two covers for the Saturday Evening Post. In 1948, Brook left Savannah and purchased a home on Long Island, New York, where he retired from painting in 1966 and died in 1980.