Shag and Wild Water by Michael Browne - 301x401

Michael Browne, a New Zealand abstractionist painter, trained at the Royal College and went on to teach at Hammersmith, and Chelsea School of Art.

Michael Browne was conceived in an alpine hut on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, but he was born in Wigan, Lancashire, in the UK. In 1930 his mother, Ruth D Browne, already a noted artist, travelled to England with Michael’s father, Alan C Browne, to meet his mother. Ruth stayed in England to take advantage of the opportunity to train at the Slade School of Fine Art while her sister who had come from the United States, looked after Michael while she studied.
1956 Self Portrait by Michael Browne - 380x305

1956 Self Portrait by Michael Browne – 380×305

Michael Browne, an Artist From Artists

Michael, today a well-known abstractionist, arrived back in New Zealand in 1933 and lived with his mother at Franz Josef until 1940. Ruth supported them by painting, eventually having reproductions made of her work which sold more readily to the tourists who visited Franz Josef. Michael’s father was also an artist, as well as a mountain climber and guide at Mt Cook and Fox Glacier. Painter, Ethel Richardson, known as Aunty Fluff, had bought him paints and sent him to Canterbury College of Art (CCA) where he met Ruth in 1928. Ruth was then winning art prizes ahead of Rita Angus and Russell Clark who were also at CCA.

Michael grew up around his mother painting, but he didn’t learn the skills from her. “Her paintings were around the house,” he says, “and she clearly loved it. I learnt from her, probably by osmosis, to always buy the best possible materials.”

Fireflies Dance (2010) by Michael Browne - 915x1220

Fireflies Dance (2010) by Michael Browne – 915×1220

When he left school, Michael worked for five years in advertising agencies and eventually in 1954 attended CCA  to become a better commercial artist. “I got one whiff of oil paint and decided to give up commercial art,” he says. “Russell Clark, Bill Sutton and Ivy Fife were the tutors then. 1954 was a ground-breaking period to be at CCA. There were so many great students: Pat Hanly, Gil Tavener (Hanly), Edward Bullmore, Bill Culbert, Phyllis Hamilton (Ross), Karen McFarlane, Bill Williams, Hamish Keith and others, all influenced by Toss Woollaston and Colin McCahon via Bill Sutton.

After one term at CCA Michael won the National Art Gallery Travelling Scholarship and attended the Royal College of Art in London in 1958. He then spent a year in Paris, printmaking in the ateliers of S W Haytors and Friedlander. One day in 1960 a letter fell through the mail slot in Paris inviting him to take up a fellowship with the Netherlands International Cultural Relations. He accepted the invitation and worked for a year at the Rijkes Academy in Amsterdam.

Michael Browne Tutor in Arts Schools

With an ARCA from the Royal College, Michael went on to teach in art schools in the UK including at Hammersmith College of Art, and as senior lecturer in charge of vocational fine art at Chelsea School of Art. In 1986 he officially retired and has painted full time ever since.

Purple Haze (2010) by Michael Browne - 915x1220

Purple Haze (2010) by Michael Browne – 915×1220

Michael Browne influences and working mode

He works in oils around a variety of themes, and apart from an expected influence from his mother, he counts as important NZ influences, Russell Clark and Bill Sutton, while English ones include John Minton, and Ruskin Spear. The writings of Leonardo, Delacroix, Cezanne, and Paul Klee have also had an impact.

“During the 1960s I realised that I had stopped looking – I was like an overdrawn bank account ever struggling to pull another image from my head without depositing anything in there, so I had to start looking again. Gradually I developed my visual memory and now am able to look/glance, digest, and produce work which relates to my experiences, and coincidentally, connects up with my work of the ’60s. Wherever I go, I look, with work in mind. Primarily my work expresses a need to be true to myself and to create a positive influence.”

Based in Wellington and working most afternoons for five hours, Michael has always preferred to share studios. “In London I shared with several other artists for 31 years, and in NZ I’ve shared several studios with others; not necessarily painters but 3D artists and printmakers too. I enjoy the communication that working around others brings, and the sense of commitment.”

Currently he shares a working environment with painter, Jeanne Macaskill, multi-disciplined Carlos Wedde (Ian’s son), printmaker Basia Smolniki, and others at Shelly Bay which looks across the harbour towards Wellington. He says that while he gave up printmaking in the 1960s, he’s about to start again.

Michael Browne, New Zealand Painter - Abstractionist

Michael Browne, New Zealand Painter – Abstractionist

Michael Browne works in public collections

Michael Browne’s work is held in the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Ministry of External Affairs NZ, Sarjeant Gallery NZ, Rutherford Collection NZ, Government House NZ, Gemeendt Museum – the Hague, the Stuyvesant Collection, Inner London Education Authority UK, as well as in many private collections around the world.

©Theresa Sjoquist

Source: Theresa Sjoquist Interview with Michael Browne

11 replies
  1. Penelope [P.J.] Stewart
    Penelope [P.J.] Stewart says:

    There is so much that I didn’t know about you ! I found this absolutely fascinating and thanks for sharing your story with us.
    Your path has been so rich and Theresa Sjoquist has managed to present the different chapters in a really fresh way.
    Congrats and love.

  2. Angela
    Angela says:


    This may be a long shot but I am looking for information about R Warburton. I have a print of Franz Josef Glacier by him signed and dated 17.10.54

    Thanks in advance


  3. Colin Chinn
    Colin Chinn says:

    I find this article really interesting because for years I have been attempting to find out information about the artist Alan C Browne, and you seem to have supplied it in an indirect way. My mother, born at Franz Josef in 1910, was given two paintings by this artist for her 21st birthday and she left them to me when she died in 1998. Thank you for solving the mystery.

  4. martin doherty
    martin doherty says:

    an inspiring artist?teacher for me(and many!) at Hammersmith in the 1970s -i’m still painting after a 30+ years of teaching art myself.Thanks Mike.

  5. Malcolm D Knight
    Malcolm D Knight says:

    Interesting . I found this page while looking for mention of Alan C Browne Artist. I and two climbing pals met Alan at Easter time 1962. in the Ogwen valley N.Wales. He was living and painting out of the back of a small van. I was then a twenty year old climbing instructor and guide. Alan in earlier years had also been a guide, in NZ. We spent a number of days in his company and I have always remembered him.
    He later sent to me a copy of an article featuring the cottage he lovingly restored at Appley Bridge.
    Though I have never been to NZ my daughter and her husband spent a long holiday there and my grandson was also conceived there. I also have an old climbing friend Breda Arkless who up to her death was a well known NZ mountain guide in the Mt. Cook area.
    Like many old men I could ramble on but I was thrilled to have found this article about Allan’s son who bears, if I may say so a striking resemblance to his father, and it appears, continues the family tradition of painting.
    Malcolm D Knight Cumbria, England.

    • Theresa Sjoquist
      Theresa Sjoquist says:

      Lovely to hear from you, Malcolm Knight. I’ll pass your comment through to Michael.

  6. Malcolm D Knight
    Malcolm D Knight says:

    Thank you, that would be nice.
    Please accept my best wishes both to yourself and to Michael.

  7. Katie Thompson
    Katie Thompson says:

    So glad to have found you here! I have so often wanted to know how things are with you in New Zealand. We met at Gauden Road, London. With happy memories, love and best wishes, Katie

Comments are closed.