Brien was born in Poland and surfaced in Britain during the 1930s as a popular graphic artist, much in demand for designing transport posters for the major railway companies as well as Shell and London Underground. The latter featured a Hoolock Gibbon monkey drawn in charcoal in his distinctive art deco style. He exhibited his paintings at the Redfern Gallery in the early 1930s.
Although no further biographical details are currently available, Brien was clearly well thought of amongst his peers. This collection of works on paper come from the collection of his friend and colleague, the Scottish painter and printmaker Iain Macnab.
About the pleasures and challenges of capturing animals, he writes:
“In setting out to portray animal life one soon realises in observing their movements the impossibility of approaching them in the same way as one would in drawing a portrait or a landscape.
They are perpetually on the move; pacing, leaping, climbing or scampering about.
In the case of a bear notice how smoothly he slouches along, his limbs and muscle seem to move freely like a piece of well-oiled machinery.
This may also be said of the lion, in fact of all the cat tribe. These lovely beasts even when at rest unknowingly take up graceful attitudes but still display in their supple limbs muscular vigour and a distinct power of reserve.
There are the points I have tried to express on paper and which make the drawing of animals so alluring.
The accompanying drawings, therefore, claim to be pictures of movement, life and character, rather than mere diagrams over-burdened with information about such things as colour, marking or texure of fur. To get these I have chosen to make use of only those things which are useful in typifying the animal in question.
I have always been specially attracted by the plain coloured animals such as the lion, wolf and bear, simply because the form and play of muscle is not camouflaged as is the case with strongly marked ones.
These remarks, I think, are enough to give some idea of my point of view and explain the very simplified style I have adopted for animal drawing.”
- Extract by The Ambassador Publishing Co. Ltd (1928) (150, Chandos House, Buckingham Gate, London SW1).