The exhibition title, A Remarkable Man: The art and legacy of David Brown, says it all. This is dedicated to a man who made an “exceptional contribution to the arts”, telling “the intriguing story of a remarkable man, collector and curator” through the words of those who knew him.
It runs from January 20-March 20 next year at The Gallery, Winchester Discovery Centre.
Retrained in art history
Brown was born in Romsey, Hampshire, in 1925. During the Second World War, he worked in the Cornish tin mines as a Bevin Boy, before studying to be a vet and working in Africa. Following the tragic death of his beloved partner in 1967, Brown returned to England, resigning from his veterinary career and finding solace in his passion for art.
After formally retraining in art history, he took a position with the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and in rapid succession became assistant keeper of the Modern Collection at Tate.
Brown amassed a substantial personal art collection, one that championed artists who were, at the time he purchased their works, up and coming.
A wide range of major 20th century artists were represented in his outstanding private collection, a large portion of which he left as a bequest to Southampton City Art Gallery.
This exhibition will include around 40 2D and 3D works by artists such as Roger Fry (Fort St Andre Villeneuve-Les Avignon, 1913), Gilbert & George (Reclining Drunk, 1973), Howard Hodgkin (Diptych 'For Bernard Jacobson', 1979), Gillian Ayres (Untitled, 1980), David Bomberg (Portrait of Spanish Gypsy Woman, 1954), Sylvia Gosse (Fountain, Saule, 1951), Leon Kossoff (Head of Philip, 1961), Richard Long (Avon Driftwood, 1975), Roger Hilton (Figure and Bird, 1963), Paul Nash (The Tide, 1920), Mary Potter (Little Shadow, 1978), Maggi Hambling, Alison Watt and many others.
Writing on the wall
Brown’s story will be told throughout the exhibition in a series of wall texts from people who knew and worked with him. These include Richard Morphet (keeper of the Modern Collection, Tate, 1986-98), Elizabeth Goodall (director of Southampton City Art Gallery, 1981-97), Ann Gallagher (director of collections, Tate), Clare Mitchell (collections manager, Hampshire Cultural Trust) and artists Ian Macdonald and Simon Cutts.
Macdonald recalls visiting Brown in his home (which he referred to as his ‘grotty palazzo’) where his collection hung. “On my very first visit to 6 Killyon Road I vividly remember nearly crashing into a Richard Long piece, a mixture of drift wood and stone, laid out across an upstairs room, while to the right, on a sideboard, stood a couple of pieces by Hamilton Finlay.
“Each visit was a milestone in the study of art history as visual stimulation abounded. An overnight stay and the offered choice of a bedroom was fascinating as you could find yourself sleeping under a Bomberg drawing and painting, double hung, or on the first floor, my favourite, the magnificent leaping nude by Roger Hilton, hanging above a bedroom fireplace.
“Entering the front door led to the passageway past a Gilbert & George postcard piece immediate right with a Roger Hilton to the left. The first room, on the right, was the library, mainly stacks of books such that it was rather difficult, if not impossible to access many of the shelved books or equally a delightful small Keith Vaughan painting on the far-left corner wall next to a Duncan Grant...”
Elizabeth Goodall says his influence on Southampton Art Gallery was immense: “His advice helped to make a substantial collection of modern British art, now nationally accredited… much purchased from artists as they were embarking on their careers, and before they built international reputations.”
Brown bequeathed the whole of his own collection to the gallery with the exception only of a few specific legacies, and a further purchase fund.
For another collector focus, ATG subscribers can read an interview with Maurice Collins, the ‘Mr Gadget’ who also acquires posters from the two world wars and is about to hold an exhibition.