highlights international perspective

Pieter Irwin Brown, (British, b. Holland, 1903-1988)

Volcano Asama, Karuizawa Japan

Signed in pencil at lower left, Peter Irwin Brown, with title in margin at lower right, Volcano Asama, Karuizawa Japan. With red oval Tobin collector's seal on lower right margin. Most likely published by Watanabe Shôzaburô, ca. 1935-40.

27.9 by 47.7 cm

Pieter Irwin Brown was born in Rotterdam in 1903 to an Irish mother and a Dutch father. He had a private art teacher before studying at the Rotterdam Academy of Visual Arts. When his family moved to Utrecht, Brown enrolled at the school of decorative and applied arts, from which he was recruited by a leading architect to work at his studio. In 1921, he entered the Royal Academy in Amsterdam where he studied for two years. In 1923, he embarked on an extensive trip which took him through Europe and Africa, including a three-month stay in Tunisia and a six-month stint in Belfast where he found work as a designer for a linen manufacturer. In 1925, Brown settled in London, forming a partnership, Ralph and Brown, Poster Artists, with a businessman, Rickman Ralph. The poster company specialized in designs for railway companies, including The Underground Group (in control of the London tube lines). In 1932 Brown was on the move again; first he visited Egypt for three months, before he continued on to Java, where he stayed for an extended period, supporting himself with freelance work again.

Early in 1934, Brown journeyed to Japan, roughing it in the third class of a small cargo ship. He finally landed at the coal mining town of Miiko in Kyushu. He wrote about his first impressions of Japan in an autobiographical essay to the collector James Tobin in the 1950's: "Everything was black with coal and yet beautiful. To this day I do not know what it is that gives this land its charm." He was inspired: "In Kyoto I saw Japanese prints all over the place. My own house late at night against the moon was a print. The temples harmoniously interwoven with the shapely pines were prints. The women in kimono walking along the river under the weeping willows were old prints....A hum of the past and the invisible spirits of the Kamo river seemed to unfold before my eyes more prints, old prints." (Merritt, Points of Contrast, p. 52).

James D. Tobin, Portland, Oregon

Merritt, Points of Contrast, 1993, pp. 50-52, pl. 31
Meech, Japonisme: Graphic Arts in the 20th Century, in The New Wave, 1993, p. 51 and p. 220, pl. 313
Yokohama Museum of Art, Eyes Towards Asia: Ukiyo-e Artists from Abroad, 1996, pp. 244


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site last updated
September 22, 2020

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475