Art world loses icon

August 26, 2009 by Henry Benjamin
Read on for article

Joseph Brown, one of Australia’s greatest art collectors, has died in Melbourne at the age of 92.

Joseph Brown painted by Wes Walters

Joseph Brown painted by Wes Walters

Joseph Brown

Joseph Brown

Brown’s main claim to fame is his donation in 2004 of 154 works of art  to the National Gallery of Victoria. The value of the collection was estimated to have been around $30 million at the time.

The philanthropist was born in Lodz, Poland in 1918 and arrived in Australia in 1933. With a successful rag trade business behind him, he opened his first gallery in Melbourne in 1967 and specialised in fine-tuning the art of how to put together an art collection.

His nephew Norman Rosenblatt told J-Wire: “He was very proud of being Jewish and believed that a Jew was a Jew was a Jew to the extent that he belonged to two Shules..Elwood which is Orthodox and Temple Beth Israel which is Progressive. He would go to each on alternative weeks.”

Rosenblatt said that his uncle had boarded the first plane for Israel after the outbreak of the 1967 Six Day War. He added: “they would not let him fight, but he was one of the first people to reach the Wall.”

Brown is survived his wife Estelle and one son and two daughters.

Frederick McGubben's "Autumn Memories" Donated by Brown to the NGV in 2004

Frederick McCubben's "Autumn Memories" Donated by Brown to the National Gallery of Victoria in 2004

The National Gallery of Victoria issued the following statement:

The National Gallery of Victoria today paid tribute to the contribution of one of its greatest philanthropists, Joseph Brown AO, OBE, and expressed sadness at his passing. Dr Brown, 91, was a distinguished Melbourne collector, art dealer, and artist.

In 2004 Dr Brown gifted to the NGV the largest and most generous gift of Australian 19th and 20th century art ever donated to an Australian gallery or institution. It included over 100 major paintings and sculptures, 54 works on paper (watercolors, drawings and prints) and works by Dr Brown.

Lynne Kosky, Minister for the Arts, said that Dr Brown had left a tremendous legacy for all Australians: “His gift was extremely generous, and the outstanding artworks in his Collection are a very important addition to the NGV’s holdings of Australian art”.

“Dr Brown was a great Australian, who believed in sharing his outstanding collection with the community”, said NGV Director Dr Gerard Vaughan.

“All Australians have reason to be grateful to him for his extraordinary gift, which will be enjoyed in perpetuity by visitors to the NGV. Dr Brown was also very much part of NGV life: as Patron of the NGV Foundation he enjoyed attending functions, and was loved by all in the NGV community.

“The Trustees and staff of the NGV are deeply saddened by the passing of this great and visionary benefactor, and we extend our sincere condolences to his family at this time”.

Dr Brown was born in Lodz in Poland in 1918. He emigrated to Australia in 1933, attending Princes Hill Central School in Carlton, and later evening classes at the Working Men’s College (now RMIT) under the distinguished artist Napier Waller.

He received an art scholarship to attend Brunswick Technical School in 1934, and founded his own fashion making business in 1938. In 1940 he closed his business and enlisted in the 13th Light Horse Regiment of the AIF.

Returning to business in 1946, he travelled overseas and began collecting Australian art, especially of the colonial period. His great love, however, was the art world and the art market, and in 1960 he decided to become an art consultant and later dealer. Throughout his life he continued to make sculptures and pictures of his own, and was never happier than when in the company of practicing artists.

In 1967 he opened the Joseph Brown Gallery at 5 Collins St where he held solo shows for artists such as Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, John Brack and Rick Amor, and presented large-scale historical surveys with published catalogues. These exhibitions included artists such as John Glover, Eugène von Guérard, Tom Roberts, Fred McCubbin, Arthur Streeton, John Peter Russell, Rupert Bunny, Margaret Preston, Albert Tucker, John Perceval, and many others. He conscientiously mentored many young emerging artists.

He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1973 and Order of Australia (AO) in 1990. He held honorary doctorates from Monash, Melbourne and LaTrobe Universities.

At the time of his great gift to the NGV in 2004, Joseph Brown highlighted the life of the NGV in the community:

“I am often very surprised when some people say they have not been to the National Gallery of Victoria,” he said. “I always stress to them, this is their property. It’s their Gallery, they should feel it is theirs. It’s not mine, it’s not (NGV Director) Gerard Vaughan’s, it belongs to the people.

“I would like all Victorians to feel [they own] this immense Collection. Feel yourself rich for having it, and for enjoying it with your children and your grandchildren.”

For Dr Brown, collecting art was a lifelong love, and he believed that anyone of any age and background could become a collector.

“My first purchase was literally with my first wage. I was 16.That was the beginning of my collection. I feel very good about presenting this to the NGV, I’d like people to enjoy it.”

Highlights of the Joseph Brown Collection include one of Australia’s finest paintings, Autumn Memories 1989 by Frederick McCubbin; John Glover’s A Mountain Torrent c. 1837; Yalla-Y-Poora 1864 by Eugène von Guérard; In The Artist’s Studio 1891 by Arthur Streeton; a collection of works by John Peter Russell, including Almond Tree In Blossom 1887? and Rough Sea, Belle Ile 1900; Tree Form 1945 by Russell Drysdale; Floating Dock and Tugboats by John Perceval 1956; Arthur Boyd’s Bride and Groom by a Creek c.1960; Cricketer 1955 by Fred Williams; Nude With Dressing Gown 1967 by John Brack.

In addition to his major gift to the NGV, Dr Brown donated hundreds of works to public collections, large and small, throughout Australia. While major historical works, such as Eugène von Guérard’s Ferntree Gully have gone to key institutions such as the National Gallery of Australia and the NGV, a major aspiration of his giving was to ensure the representation of younger, emerging artists in public collections. Dr Brown also provided a voluntary and free service to many public institutions in terms of valuing their collections and providing advice on their management.

The Joseph Brown Collection is located at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square.  It has become one of the NGV’s greatest visitor attractions. Admission is free.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

    Rules on posting comments