Janet Venn-Brown’s travels took her around Europe, particularly England and Scandinavia, before she settled in Rome for 40 years. She found a flat close by for her friend Justin O’Brien when he arrived, and was one of the painting circle there that included visitors like Martin Sharpe, Arthur Boyd, Donald Friend and Margaret Olley as well as locals Jeffrey Smart. David Malouf and so on.
Well, Janet Van Brown, she’s a great friend of mine. She lives just down the road. She lives in… I live in 31, she lives in 11, in the same street. Ah, Janet’s… ah… I mean she’s painting all the time and she’s… she’s… she was doing… she used to do just scenes of… mostly scenes of… of Rome. And then she started doing interiors.
Justin O’Brien, excerpt from interview by Heather Rusden recorded in Woollahra on 15 November 1989.
And it was in Rome that she met Wael Zuaiter, the Palestinian intellectual, who captured her heart when he sang to her so sweetly ‘It was a lover and his lass’ as they walked the banks of the Tiber. He had a trained voice.
Eight years later, a bit of a dreamer, he finally had the documentation ready for their marriage, when he was gunned down by Mossad and Janet’s life was changed for all time. She wrote her book For a Palestinian as a memorial to him and filled it with accounts from his friends such as Jean Genet, Alberto Moravia and Edward Said. She has never ceased to work for Palestine and several other causes for social justice.
At the same time, she never stopped painting and exhibited in several countries. On her return to Sydney the National Trust got her to paint Vaucluse House interiors and the results were shown at the SH Erwin on Observatory Hill. Her very delicate touch and finely sensitive interpretation has been in constant demand, leading the busiest life in her 90’s with barely a space in her calendar. Her friends have trouble keeping up with her.
See the Miya Yamanouchi interview with Janet Venn-Brown on the success of her exhibition at Tap Gallery in 2013 at the age of 89.
Janet had a beautiful family childhood living in Drummoyne, sailing the Harbour and attending PLC. When the war arrived she was to be sent to the country as a landgirl and her father, horrified at the idea, got her employed by Movietone News instead. Later she worked for Sam Ure-Smith and instead of throwing out a rejected manuscript she took it home to read and told him it should be published. That book was called “They’re a Weird Mob”.
Meanwhile she was studying at her Italian art school and has been painting ever since. Janet lived and painted in Italy for 40 years where she painted interiors of well known artists and associates. Pictured above is the interior of Justin O’Brian’s interior. Justin was a well known Australian figurative painter. Janet also painted the interior of Jeffrey Smart’s studio and many more. Margaret Olley visited Janet whenever she was in Italy.