Obituary: Geoffrey Houghton Brown

Geoffrey Alban Michael Houghton Brown, artist and connoisseur, born Wimbledon 12 April 1903, died Kingston upon Thames 3 February 1993.

GEOFFREY Houghton Brown was in no sense a public figure. A hundred years ago he would have been considered quite simply a cultivated English gentleman.

Actually he was considered an eccentric. Never very rich, he was comfortable enough not to work for a living. Before and even during the Second World War, he seemed to be perpetually moving house. Moving was the breath of life to him. He would take on rather derelict great houses - Clouds, Oving Hall, Felix Hall, Winslow Hall - which, for he was a somewhat ruthless improver, he was wont to leave less great than he found them. He filled them, as later he filled his London houses, with exquisite Boulle, Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture, porcelain, holy reliquaries and full- length portraits of Persian noblemen, all of excellent quality. As a connoisseur, he was respected by scholars like Sir Francis Watson, although he never submitted his own expertise to public scrutiny. He was a voracious reader: a man of eclectic tastes and talents.

During the war - he was far too delicate to be enlisted by the services - he was always ready for any expedition or adventure with an aesthetic purpose. Yet he spent night after night during the Blitzes voluntarily fire-watching and extinguishing incendiary bombs on the roof of Westminster Abbey.

Very unassuming and self-deprecating, Houghton Brown would disappear to a secluded studio (to which no friend was permitted) near the Tottenham Court Road, where he assiduously painted religious pictures in the Byzantine- Cubist style of his friend and artistic monitor the Australian painter Roy de Maistre. Unorthodox and strange, they were often imaginative and inspired. In 1946 he was persuaded to exhibit some of them under the title 'Sacred Abstract Art' in an Ebury Street gallery. Not a single picture was sold.

Undoubtedly his chief devotion was to the Roman Catholic faith, to which he was converted when a very young man. But the disruptive consequences of the Second Vatican Council were a devastating blow, and he seldom went to Mass again. Like many older Catholics, of whom Evelyn Waugh is the best known, he felt betrayed by his church. He became a strong supporter of the Latin Mass Society, of which for a time he was the chairman, but committees and speech-making were not in his line.

He loved entertaining a handful of intimates. One would find round his table such disparate friends as the formidable Father Martin D'Arcy SJ and the rococo stage designer Oliver Messel. Houghton Brown was totally indifferent as to who his friends were. It was what they were that mattered to him. Not so with his lifelong companion, the decorator Ronald Fleming, who had, among his other virtues, a fine instinct for breeding and correct forms of address. Once, having invited a Balkan princess to tea, Fleming tutored Houghton Brown how he ought to behave. Intensely shy, Houghton Brown remained silent in the royal presence until he thought fit to say: 'And now won't you have some ma'am, Jam?'

Towards the end of his life he composed and had printed an apologia of the 16th-century French astrologer Nostradamus, whose prophecies, notwithstanding the ambiguity of their utterances, Houghton Brown implicitly believed came to pass. What is more, such was his enthusiasm he sometimes constrained his friends' credulity to agree with him.

He had a wry humour and a sort of despairing cynicism which was very engaging. In the post-war age, he was a refreshing anachronism.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice