highlights international perspective

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

Bridge Over River at Jehol, Manchuria

Signed in pencil within the composition near the lower right edge, Peter [sic] Irwin. Most likely published by Watanabe ca. 1937.

33.5 by 54.5 cm

Alternate titles: Winter in Manchukuo; and Early Morning Sleigh Ride

Brown made his way to Kyoto where he settled in a small house. Shortly thereafter, he traveled to China and Manchuria, resulting in a number of sketches and drawings, many of which he sold to the shin-hanga publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô upon his return to Japan. Watanabe developed the works into woodblock prints which he then showed the artist several months later for his approval (and presumably, the artist's signature). This inspired Brown to produce more designs specifically to be made into prints by both Watanabe and the publisher Adachi Toyohisa (1902-1982). According to Stewart J. Tease, a collector who was in Japan at the time, the Watanabe prints bear only the artist's pencil signature, and no Watanabe seal; while the Adachi prints bear the artists PIB seal as well as the impressed Adachi seal (Merritt, Points of Contrast, p. 52).

Brown left Japan in 1940, stopping in Honolulu before arriving in San Francisco (on a British passport, which he presumably was able to obtain because his mother was Irish). The same year he exhibited his prints in Peking and Shanghai; his prints were also exhibited in Tokyo, Kyoto, Honolulu, and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1946. After the 1946 show, Brown recedes from view; he moved from the Los Angeles area to New York, and for reasons unknown, apparently changed his name to Pieter Brown, Pieter van Oort, or van Ordt. It has been suggested that Brown's mysterious departure from the public eye following the war may relate to his extensive pre-war travels throughout Asia and his remarkably long residency in Japan. As a traveling artist he may have found himself in a position to be of service to an intelligence organization in the years leading up to the war, and if so, perhaps after the war it was only pragmatic to keep a lower profile.

Merritt, Points of Contrast, 1993, p. 51, pl. 31


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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