Benjamin Franklin Austrian, one of the foremost recognized artists of Berks County, was born in Reading in 1870. His lifelong penchant for painting began at the early age of five, and continued through his adolescent years into his twenties, when he finally, with considerable growing success, pursued a career as an artist. Austrian was largely self-taught, but was probably most influenced by the accomplished local artists, Frederick Spang, Amos Gable, and Edward Howell. He expanded his artistic knowledge with visits to major institutions and exhibitions in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
Ben Austrian’s realistic renditions of chickens became his calling card, not only here in the states, but also abroad. Ben raised his own chickens, isolating them from common barnyard life. He learned their mannerisms, communicative ways, and their spirits. Austrian had trained them to pose, allowing him to paint them from life. In 1902, a Bon Ami cleanser trade card featured a painting of chicks by Ben Austrian. It was a wellspring of positive recognition, not only for the product, but also for Ben himself.
In 1914, Ben Austrian traveled by train to Palm Beach, Florida. In the remoteness of the barren beaches, he began to paint tonal landscapes of palm trees and sand. By 1918, Austrian purchased property for a studio and home. It was in the warmth of the Florida sun that he painted and exhibited during the cold winter months that were occurring in Pennsylvania. He developed a sound following in Florida, many of whom were vacationing affluent businessmen from around the country.
Much of Ben Austrian’s oeuvre reflects his masterful realistic paintings of feather and fur, and his trompe l’oeil style paintings of still lifes. Entering mid-life, Austrian shifted his interest to the softer, poetic painting of tonalism. He produced misty twilight renditions of the Berks County countryside, and illuminated images of the landscape of Palm Beach. Ben Austrian died suddenly, at the age of fifty-one, at the height of his new and well received emotionally revealing style of painting.