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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before