Pieter Irwin Brown Biography

Pieter Irwin Brown




Pieter Irwin Brown (a.k.a. Pieter van Oort and Peter Vandordt) was born in Rotterdam, Holland on April 4, 1903. In his teenage years, his family moved to Utrecht, Holland where Pieter attended a design school and, at the age of eighteen, he entered the Royal Academy in Amsterdam where he studied for two years under Professor Jurres.

After completing his schooling, Brown traveled widely throughout Europe and Africa supporting himself by working as a freelance artist. Eventually settling in London, he and Rickman Ralph started a small advertising business designing advertising posters for railroad companies, the National Radio Corporation, and the London County Council.

In the early 1930s, Brown made extensive visits to Egypt, Indonesia, and Japan. From his home in Kyoto, he made trips to China, Manchuria, and Korea. Around 1935, Brown met the woodblock publisher Watanabe and sold him several drawings of Japanese scenes. Watanabe used these as the basis for woodblock prints which he showed to Brown several months later. Over the next few years, Brown also designed prints for Adachi Toyohisa, the proprietor of the Adachi Institute of Prints. Adachi primarily made ukiyo-e reproduction prints and Brown was the only Westerner to collaborate with him on original prints. Adachi published several woodblock prints based on Brown's Chinese landscapes, including Jehol and Peking. In addition, Brown designed two series of greeting cards and two woodblock prints of the U.S. consulate in Yokohama, commissioned by Richard Boyce.

Brown's creative output has not been documented but it comprises at least twenty designs and probably closer to thirty. According to J. Stewart Tease, a collector who lived in Japan during the 1930s, the prints published by Watanabe only have the artist’s signature and do not bear a Watanabe publisher's seal. This has caused some collectors to assume that all of Brown’s woodblock prints were published by Adachi, which is not the case. Those made by Adachi have a red PIB cartouche within the image and bear the artist’s signature and an embossed Adachi seal in the margin.

In 1937, P.D. Perkins, a Pasadena book and print dealer, compiled a partial list of Brown’s prints. This catalogue listed nineteen prints and a commentary on Brown’s work. Perkins summed up Brown’s distinctive style, saying “he strength in his prints lies, perhaps, in his elimination of non-essentials.” Like other shin hanga artists, Brown used the Western techniques of perspective and shadowing to create dimensionality and depth. However, he was clearly inspired by the board, flat areas of color in ukiyo-e prints.

Several of Brown’s prints were used as illustrations in Karakoro: at Home in Japan, a book by Henry Noel published in 1939. As indicated in the book, these prints were lent by Watanabe. Brown also designed a poster for the Japanese National Railroad depicting a deer at the gate of the Itsukushima Shrine.

Brown arrived in California on 20 June 1940 and he became a naturalized American citizen on 21 June 1944, as Pieter Irwin Brown. Around this time Brown began using the name ‘Pieter van Oort’ and at least one of his woodblock prints was signed with this name. During the 1940s, his woodblock prints were featured in several exhibits in China and Japan, and at the Los Angeles County Museum in June 1946. On August 11, 1950, Brown, now living in Santa Barbara, California, officially changed his name to Peter van Oordt (his mother’s maiden name).

Peter van Oordt eventually moved to New York and died on February 22, 1988, in Rockland, New York.