Her early work focused on aboriginal children and girls performing ballet. Sketching with remarkable speed, Brownie never used pencil to outline her watercolours and very rarely used water, just the finest sable brush and a lick of saliva. She also preferred to work at night, frequently painting until the early hours. The Aboriginal studies were an immediate success. She sold many originals and prints of some of her work were marketed all over Australia. Throughout the 1950s, Brownie created many designs for Christmas cards, pictures and pottery and with the marketing skills of her first husband, Ronald Parsons, her work translated into commercial success. In 1958 Brownie left Australia and through her extensive travels she worked prolifically to create a portfolio of paintings of children of many different nationalities.
Brownie Downing’s first book, Tinka and His Friends, was published in 1960, selling 60,000 copies and winning The Daily Telegraph Children’s Book of the Year award. The book tells the story of an Aboriginal boy, Tinka, and Shelley, a little blonde girl who desperately wanted to grow pigtails. The Shelly character was based on her only daughter Chele. Her other three children, Charles, Tim and Beau, also appeared in her books which included: A Tale of Mischief, Tinka and the Bunyip, Children of the Dreaming and Topa the Little Peruvian.
Promotion of the book took Brownie to Britain where she met her second husband and co-author John Lattin Mansfield, and the family began travelling the world for several years leading an almost nomadic lifestyle. In 1966, they went to live in John’s ancestral estate on the River Liffey in County Kildare. After selling the property, they bought a yacht named Voyageur and sailed the Mediterranean for twelve years, spending the first winter in Menorca, before settling in Palma, Mallorca in 1974. Throughout this time, Brownie would paint up to 12 hours a day, frequently commissioned to paint portraits of people’s children but often doing what she like best, just sitting outdoors in a café and sketching the local children. The couple finally moved to Andorra in the mid-80s where Brownie died at the age of 71 at her home in the mountain village of Pal in Andorra in 1995.
Whilst Downing remains best known for her Aboriginal subjects, many people will not have seen the commercial work which she produced after leaving Australia, or the lovely originals from the family collection. Now, here’s your chance to read more about this fascinating artist and view many of her illustrations and paintings of children, fauna and wildlife from all over the world. Simply visit: www.brownie-downing.com.
Finally, in Brownie’s words: “I’ve always believed that children need magic, and most of the scenes I have painted are those which children love – full of fantasy and colour,” she said in the Palma newspaper interview. “You see, for a child, for example, a tree is full of pixies, gnomes, fairies and flowers. A child believes – and I also believe – that there is magic in the world, that flowers do feel and understand, and that somehow we have lost touch with so many things. But these are the things which I like to put into my paintings and drawings and books, and I think that is why they have been so successful.”
Chele Fox is co-owner with her husband of one of Menorca’s longest established and still personally run car hire companies, Meno-Cars.