While the practice of many artists is described as en plein air, Peter Brown really does do most of his painting outside. He sets up his easel in all weathers and happily works among people and directly from the subject, in a vigorous impressionist style. Even when completing larger canvases in the studio, he never refers to photographs, but utilises the charcoal drawings, pastels and smaller paintings that he has made on site. He is probably best known for his views of British cities, including London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, as well as Bath. However, his range is wide, and he has engaged with the cliffs and beaches of the West Country and Brittany, a number of European cities, and many more distant locations.
Recently, he has also developed an interest in painting interiors. And, whether he is working inside or out, he always instils his canvases with a dynamic sense of life, for he interested in people as well as places, and is equally skilled as a portraitist. Since 2018, he has further demonstrated his empathy and sociability as a highly successful President of the New English Art Club. He has acknowledged fellow members, Tom Coates and Ken Howard, as among his inspirations. Peter Brown was born in Reading, Berkshire, on 28 July 1967, the son of Geoffrey Brown and his wife, Julia (née Blakiston). He grew up in the hamlet of Oare and was educated at Presentation College, a Catholic school in Reading. He studied art at ‘A’ Level, and though, by his own admission, was the weakest of the five students taking the subject, managed to secure a place on the diploma course in Art Foundation Studies at Bath College of Higher Education. His teachers – David Atkinson, David Cobb and Jackie Harding – encouraged him out of the studios and onto the streets in order to paint from life; as a result, he engaged for the first time with the city’s distinct architectural character and the way that people interacted with it. On completing his diploma in 1987, he was awarded a commendation in painting.
Though ‘his ambition’ at the time ‘was to get an HGV licence, and take to the road’ (Tina Rowe, West Country Life, 28 September 2013), Peter went to Manchester Polytechnic to study for a BA in Fine Art. He assumed that he was going to be a Modernist and, during the three years of his degree, focussed on abstraction. On graduating, he remained in the city, and continued in the same vein for two years, painting in an old mill building in Ancoats, and supporting himself by working at the Mattessons Wall’s sausage factory in Trafford. Then, in 1992, he moved to Eltham, in London, to take a PGCE in Further Education.
In 1993, Peter returned to Bath, where, virtually giving up painting, he took a job with a firm that installed television aerials. Despite his suffering from vertigo, the time that he spent up on the roofs gave him a fresh perspective on the city. Soon, he began to make charcoal drawings of its buildings and of the life that went on around them. Working solely in that medium for a couple of years, he eventually returned to painting in oils and, in 1995, began to exhibit regularly at the Bath Society of Artists and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (soon becoming a member of both).
In 1996, Peter married Lisa O’Donovan in Bath. They have continued to live in the city, and have had five children together. In the same year, he won his first prize, the Non-Members Award of The Pastel Society; he has since shown with the society regularly, has become a member, and has won both its Tom Rice Gallery Award (in 1998) and its Arts Club Award (in 2001).
The late 1990s were significant years for Peter, as he began to establish his reputation by contributing to a wide range of mixed shows, including those mounted by leading societies. He started to exhibit at the Royal Society of British Artists (winning the St Cuthberts Mill Award in 1997), the Royal West of England Academy (winning the Bristol Fine Art Oil Painting Prize in 1998) and especially the New English Art Club (being elected a member in 1998). It was in 1998 that he met the NEAC member, Peter Kuhfeld, on the streets of Bath, who then introduced him to the dealer, Bill Patterson.
Peter held his first solo show in the year 2000, at Bath’s prestigious Victoria Art Gallery. An ideal showcase for his scenes of the city, it has since hosted another eight of his solo shows. Exhibiting at W H Patterson Fine Arts, in London, from the same year, he was given solo shows there in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, he held the first of 14 solo shows at Messum’s, which had as its theme the course of the Thames from source to city (as he explained in the first of a series of occasional articles for the magazine, The Artist). The capital remained important to him as both an art centre and a subject, as he began to show at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (2002-4, 2006, 2008, 2010-11) and became the first Artist-in-Residence at the Savoy Hotel (2006). By taking on that position, he followed in the footsteps of Whistler and Monet, both of whom had worked from the hotel during the late nineteenth century. He also expanded his repertoire by painting in Cardiff and Edinburgh, and exhibiting the resulting works in two-man shows at the Albany Gallery, Cardiff (2006 & 2010), and a solo show with Alexander Meddowes in Edinburgh (2009). Nevertheless, Bath remained the place closest to his heart as he demonstrated with the publication of Brown’s Bath (2008), a chronicle of his first 15 years of drawing and painting in that city. While best known as a painter of landscapes and townscapes, he also developed his talent for portraiture and, in 2008, began to exhibit with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (of which he now a member).
During the decade, Peter garnered a number of prizes, including the W H Patterson Memorial Award (2000), the Arts Club Award (2002) and the Critics’ Choice (2009) (all at the New English Art Club), and also the Drawing Prize (Hunting Art Prize, 2005), the Cross Gate Gallery Purchase Prize (2005), the Prince of Wales Award for Portrait Drawing (2008) and The Arts Club Award (Royal Institute of Oil Painters, 2008).
In 2012, Peter was encouraged by his artist friend, Patrick Cullen, to join him and some other painters on a working trip to Udaipur in Rajasthan. This resulted in a joint exhibition at the Tryon Gallery, London, and a book, entitled My Indian Travels (both 2013). It also sparked a wide range of further foreign painting trips. These have included one to Varanasi in 2015, in the company of Patrick Cullen, Ken Howard and Neale Worley, the results of which were shown in a group show later that year at Indar Pasricha Fine Arts, London. Others, arranged by the magazine, The Artist, have seen him lead groups of students to such destinations as Cuba and Vietnam.
Peter has continued to exhibit widely and to gain prizes. His work has been the Critics’ Choice on a further five occasions at the New English Art Club, and also won the NEAC’s Winsor & Newton Award in 2017. Other of his awards include the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers Prize (2011) and The Le Clerc Fowle Medal (Royal Institute of Oil Painters, 2013).
Peter has published two further books, both with Sansom & Co: London: Paintings by Peter Brown (2015) and Bath: Paintings by Peter Brown (2018). Recently, he has developed an increasing interest in painting interiors as well as exteriors.
In 2018, Peter was elected President of the New English Art Club.