At the age of twenty-one, Charles DeWolf Brownell was admitted to the Bar, and became an attorney in Harford, Connecticut. A decade later he would end his career in the law and work strictly as a landscape painter.
He was descendant of a slave-trading family, who still owned their plantation properties in Cuba. From 1854 to 1861, Brownell would winter on the island, producing highly detailed landscapes of the many scenes and settings of the exotic location.
Though he maintained a studio in Hartford, by 1860 he knew he must enter the thriving art scene of nearby New York City, and he relocated there that same year. He began to submit his works to the National Academy of Design, and was soon known for his landscape and still life paintings. His most famous work was entitled "Connecticut Charter Oak", though all of his canvases were selling well.
He began to travel widely in the late 1870s, including journeys to Egypt, the Caribbean, Jamaica and painting excursions to Rhode Island and the Hudson Valley.
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut has some of Brownell's works in their permanent collection.