Lillian Browse

'Duchess of Cork Street' who spent 50 years as an art dealer and wrote on Sickert and William Nicholson


Lillian Gertrude Browse, art dealer and historian: born London 21 April 1906; CBE 1998; married 1934 Ivan Joseph (marriage dissolved), 1964 Sidney Lines (deceased); died London 2 December 2005.

Browse & Darby opened in 1977, but I first encountered the formidable Miss Browse 14 years earlier. I was in my early twenties, a junior in the picture department at Sotheby's. An elegant Edwardian figure, Lillian Browse cut quite a dash in her extravagant hat and veil, together with kid gloves.

She had been invited to inspect a group of Sickert paintings and help with dates and titles. Already a distinguished art historian and partner in Roland, Browse & Delbanco, she had published two books on Walter Sickert - Sickert, an illustrated monograph edited by her and with essays by her and R.H. Wilenski, in 1943; and Sickert, a biography, in 1960 - that were generally regarded as the last word on the painter's oeuvre. She had shown Sickert's paintings in Cork Street after the Second World War, but sadly never met him. They were meant to meet at his last home in Bathampton, but her invitation was cancelled because he was unwell, and he died shortly after.

William Nicholson was another English painter to attract her attention. Her William Nicholson (1956), with catalogue raisonnée, was, and still is, the only published catalogue, but it was her pioneering work on the giant of French 19th-century painting, Degas, which inspired me.

By 1972 I had left Sotheby's to start dealing on my own. I rented small first-floor premises next to Sotheby's, and often visited Lillian Browse in her basement office in Cork Street in the hope of selling something to the triumvirate, and occasionally she visited me in Bond Street. I was in her office, five years later, when her partnership was going to announce their retirement. I at once offered to take over their lease, although daunted by the prospect.

Browse confided that, although the other two wanted to retire, she would be happy to go on. I jumped at the prospect of our working together. And so, with her husband Sidney Lines's encouragement, we opened Browse & Darby in October 1977 with a major show of Euan Uglow's work. We combined contemporary British figurative work with dealing in classic British and French 19th- and 20th-century art, the only gallery in London to do so.

Lillian Browse's book Degas Dancers (1949) is still today considered a seminal work. She showed me how, as with Titian, Degas' work never diminished in old age, but constantly developed. We made a speciality of late Degas drawings, partly because they were so plentiful and undervalued, and partly because his earlier highly finished pastels were already out of reach.

Browse's more than 40 years' experience as a dealer was of inestimable value to our new enterprise. Born in London in 1906, and partly brought up in South Africa, she had first trained to be a ballet dancer, but crossed into art dealing in 1931, working for the Leger Galleries in Old Bond Street. " 'Mr Harold'," she recalled in an obituary of Harold Leger for The Independent in 1987,

"gave me my opening into the art world by agreeing to let me work in his gallery when everyone else - and I had tried many - regretted they had no vacancies. His acceptance of me - "You can come and work here if you like, but of course I shall not pay you a salary" - was typical of his kind of genial bluntness; it also made sense, for, as I knew nothing and could not even type, I was hardly an asset to anyone."

Soon she was taking over the gallery during Leger's absences abroad, and redecorating a space in it for her own regular contemporary shows.

During the war she organised exhibitions in the National Gallery (the contents of which had been dispersed to the country for safekeeping), and in 1945 she joined Henry Roland and Gustav Delbanco, Thirties refugees from Germany, in founding Roland, Browse & Delbanco in Cork Street. She became a busy author, too, publishing books on Augustus John's drawings, Barbara Hepworth's sculptures and the ballet designs of Leslie Hurry, as well as serving four years as The Spectator's ballet critic.

We had many buying trips to her old haunts in Paris, although, with the leading salerooms' increasing influence in New York, it became easier to buy French art there, rather than Paris. We never went to New York together, so it was left to me to find French work in the auctions and galleries there.

Lillian Browse's authority extended far beyond the art world. She often managed to stop the traffic when crossing Piccadilly on the way down to visit Christie's wearing one of her legendary hats. On one occasion, in the early days, we had bought a small group of pictures at auction, and I had suggested she could help me carry our booty back to Cork Street. "I have never carried pictures away from sales, and I am certainly not going to start now" came the retort. Thereafter, carriers were summoned to collect our spoils.

Her intimate dinner parties were an eagerly waited event. One such party was to include Lillian's friend the renowned gardener Christopher Lloyd. Having just embarked, as a novice, on an attempt to make a garden from nothing in Hampshire, I was very apprehensive, for fear of the conversation would be conducted entirely in Latin. Thankfully, that was not the case, and listening to them discussing plants and gardens inspired me.

As well as a beautiful garden in Sussex, Lillian had made an enchanting town garden in Pimlico, which was full of interest all year round. In 2000, my wife and I undertook a building project in Wiltshire, and Lillian was inspirational with the planting of the new garden which I had designed. On a visit to inspect the progress of the building, she was determined to examine the first floor, and follow our other guests up a precarious ladder. I refused to allow this, and she was most indignant.

Long after her retirement from the gallery in 1981, she kept abreast of the art market and rarely missed new exhibitions. We often bought pictures in half-shares, which she enjoyed doing. When she reached 80, I was admonished for ungallantly disclosing the fact to one of her admirers, so when we celebrated her 90th birthday the numbers were not broadcast. Her birthday cake was an exact replica of one of those wonderful hats, even down to spun sugar for the silk veil.

In 1983, she gave most of her own 19th- and 20th-century art collection to the Courtauld Institute. In 1998, at the age of 93, she was appointed CBE for service to the visual arts, and in 1999 she published her autobiography, Duchess of Cork Street.

This year, on her 99th birthday, I encouraged her to stay with us another year, so we could have a massive celebration on her centenary. She replied somewhat reluctantly, "I am too tired, but I probably will." She would have been 100 in April.

William Darby

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal