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Nineteenth-century Frames

Framing Colonial Australia: A Socio-historical Articulation of the Display of Art

Le cadre dans l’Australie coloniale : une articulation socio-historique de l’exposition d’art
Anita Gowers

Résumés

La première moitié du XIXe siècle vit la consolidation de la colonisation européenne en Australie. La massification du transport des prisonniers permit l’expédition sans ménagement d’un grand nombre de contrevenants à la loi vers les côtes australiennes. Les nouvelles colonies de Hobart Town et de Sydney devinrent rapidement les bidonvilles des Antipodes : désordonnés et indisciplinés, il fallait impérativement les civiliser. Dans ce contexte, le développement des arts constitua un moyen privilégié de réinsertion, permettant ainsi d'abandonner le terme de « colonie pénitentiaire » au profit de celui, plus désirable, de « société libre ». Parmi les premiers arrivants se trouvait un groupe réduit, mais remarquable, d’artistes talentueux et compétents, dont le plus célèbre était John Glover. Ces artistes importèrent leur savoir-faire et leurs traditions, et notamment les conventions établies en matière d’exposition de peintures. Dans l’écosystème artistique de l’Europe occidentale du début du XIXe siècle, il était de rigueur de présenter les toiles dans des cadres dorés, car sans le cadre approprié, une œuvre d'art ne pouvait être exposée, vendue ou présentée. Avec un accès limité aux services et ressources artistiques disponibles à l’autre bout du monde, comment ces artistes mirent-ils leurs œuvres en valeur ? Qui furent les encadreurs et les matériaux disponibles ? Fait remarquable, les historiens de l'art australiens ont peu publié sur les encadrements des artistes coloniaux en Australie et plus particulièrement sur les pratiques d’encadrement des artistes eux-mêmes. En s’appuyant sur des sources primaires telles que des journaux intimes, des manuscrits, des publications et des cadres originaux, cet article adopte une perspective socio-historiographique pour examiner les cadres d’un certain nombre d'artistes australiens qui eurent un rôle notable dans l’essor artistique de l’époque. Il explore également les interconnexions entre l'artiste, l’œuvre et le cadre. La prise en compte des matériaux disponibles, des conventions d’encadrement de l’époque et de la manière dont ces premiers artistes coloniaux voulurent que leurs œuvres soient exposées fournit des éléments essentiels aux conservateurs et aux restaurateurs et éclaire les décisions des institutions contemporaines en matière d’encadrement d'époque.

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  • 1 This research has been generously supported by a Carol Moya Mills Summer Scholarship at the Nationa (...)

1After several hours in the National Library of Australia, leafing through books on nineteenth century Australian art history, my eyes are drawn to a reproduction of Nicholas Chevalier’s Mount Arapiles and the Mitre Rock, 1863.1 The painting captures the delicate pink hues of sunset dancing across the majestic 140-metre-high sandstone rock face of Mount Arapiles, known as Dyurrite to Wotjobaluk Aboriginal Australians. The rocks are sphynx-like, proudly surveying the vastness of the alluvial Wimmera plains of Western Victoria. The small outcrop of Mitre Rock is reflected on the surface of the lake in the foreground. It is a mystical place where I have spent many winters and it has been powerfully captured by Chevalier.

2But my attention is drawn beyond the landscape itself to the shape of the reproduction I am viewing (Thomas and Radford 1988, 41). It is not the rectangular shape of the original painting, rather, the top corners of the image are curved, giving the impression we are viewing the artwork through an arched window. This reproduced image has been cropped to match the shape of the curved gilded mount, yet the frame and mount are not included. The image is a prime example of the invisibility of frames in today’s nineteenth century Australian art history publications. How is it that the frame, the ever-present companion to colonial artworks, has been ignored in the current histories of Australian painting? To answer this question, it would be easy to abandon the physicality and particularity of the frame and undertake a purely theoretical or psychological analysis. Instead, I want to stay with the specifics of the frames and their makers, with all its complexities and relationships, in order to contextualize the cultural and social contingencies of picture frames during the early beginnings of Australian colonial art.

3Critical literature on nineteenth century Australian painting and decorative arts contains few accounts that consider the frame. Whilst research on Australian frames has been undertaken by curators and frame makers within Australian cultural institutions, this research remains largely unpublished. There are, however, a small number of existing publications on Australian frames and collectively they provide valuable insights into individual Australian frame makers, as well as descriptions of exceptional frames (Mulford 1997; Payne 2007). To date, a broader discussion of the role of the picture frame in nineteenth century Australia, situating the frame within contemporary social and cultural values has yet to be presented.

4Regardless of how the artwork and its original frame have stayed together, surviving original dyads are an inheritance from the past. Their heritage value resides in the tangible material form of the frame and artwork, along with the less tangible, less immediately accessible ideas, customs and traditions. Finding the strands that link the tangible material object and the intangible is a painstaking process as in almost all Australian public collections frames are not allocated an accession number identifying them as a separate object. Accordingly, finding the physical object itself occurs often through accidental joyous serendipity. As the object is digitally unsearchable, photographs, books and documents of various mediums and formats are all used to establish connections which are key to informing our understanding of the physical form and contemporary cultural attitudes to the frame.

5Despite these difficulties, the considerable numbers of nineteenth century frames that have survived clearly demonstrates their importance. The popularity and proliferation of Australian picture frames in the nineteenth century is evidenced by their continued ubiquitous presence in public institutions and private collections and through regular appearances in auction sales. The sheer number of frames produced places them within narratives of cultural taste and manufacturers during the nineteenth century. Considering the frame within this milieu reveals much about the world that made them. The aim here is to explore how the interconnections of the frame in the London art ecosystem are echoed at periphery of the British empire in the early nineteenth century and consider frames within the Australian colonial cultural context through a more critically engaged lens via a selective examination of this profuse yet unexplored field. To make an otherwise vast subject more manageable, this investigation is limited to early Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) frame makers and their frames.

6Before looking at frames within the Australian colonial context, a brief examination of the British art ecosystem provides insights into decisions and attitudes to frames that were transported alongside human and other material cargo to the newly established penal outposts. The material and social histories of the frame in nineteenth century Australia cannot be considered in isolation from those of the parent culture, Britain.

Frames and the British Art Market

7In the late eighteenth century the commercialisation of the British art market was part of a growing cultural consumption that was amplified by a network of intricate interdependencies between artists, dealers, critics, patrons, collectors, institutions, the press, the public and the newly formed Royal Academy (Bayer and Page 2011). In this ever-changing complex ecosystem, a confluence of components contributed to the perception, reception, and consumption of frames as a necessary artwork companion.

8One of the surprising components that contributed to the consumption of frames in late eighteenth century Britain was the establishment of the Royal Academy of Art in 1768, with the purpose of providing instruction for artists and exhibiting artworks.2 In 1769, for their first exhibition, the Directors of the Academy established five rules for entry. Rule 4 of the Orders of the Exhibition stipulated “No Picture to be received without a frame” (Hutchison 1986, 37). This dictum formally established the requirement that, for works to be considered and accepted by the Academy in the annual exhibition for display, they had to be framed. Four years later, on 11 June 1773, the Council resolved that any “performance” including bas-reliefs were also required to be framed. Whilst both obvious and seemingly of little importance, these rules had an impact on artists and frame makers as the demand for frames increased. They also contributed indirectly to what later became known as the exhibition frame, the ubiquitous heavily ornamented wide gilt frame. The Royal Academy’s decisions regarding frames directly influenced public perception of the display of artworks for decades.

9The Academy’s annual Summer exhibition was remarkable for the number of works exhibited, yet it was even more remarkable for the number of artworks submitted to the Selection Committee for consideration each year as artists vied to have their works accepted to what became the principal art event of the year. In 1781, 547 works were exhibited. By 1791, the number of exhibited works was 673 (Hutchinson 1986, 49). It wasn’t until the latter half of the nineteenth century that the Royal Academy recorded the total number of works submitted revealing the true number of frames made yearly for the exhibition. In 1879 6,416 artworks were submitted for selection and 1,586 works exhibited, in 1887 8,686 submitted, with 1,946 selected. Nine years later in 1896 12,408 works were submitted for selection and 1,928 were exhibited (Hutchinson, 1986, 123). The Royal Academy’s requirement for works to be framed played a significant role and the success of its exhibition drove the demand for frames in the nineteenth century.

  • 3 Not only could frame designs result in a less than desirable position at the Royal Academy’s Summer (...)

10The Royal Academy's requirement for artworks to be framed led artists to adopt broader mouldings as a strategy to capture the viewers' attention. The Committee of Arrangement, often referred to as the hanging committee responsible for the fraught task of arranging the selected works on the walls, were regularly complaining about the growing width of frames. Frames abutted each other due to the volume of works selected for display, the limited wall space available and the widening of frame mouldings. In 1833 Ramsay Richard Reinagle, an Academician, wrote to John Constable bemoaning “[t]he frames confound them, have tortured us, and have a very great many instances operated to exclude many pictures from very favourable situations […]. It is Mania […] that of overframing pictures” (Simon 1996, 20). As frames became heavier and wider with the express intention of attracting viewers’ attention and buyers, the Royal Academy officially warned artists “where space is scarce great breadth in the frames as well as projecting Mouldings, will frequently prevent the possibility of a picture obtaining the situation it merits” (Royal Academy 1847). If an artist submitted a work with an excessively large frame, it risked not being hung at eye level, or “on the line,” which was the preferred position for artists seeking optimal visibility, diminishing the likelihood of the artwork receiving proper attention, admiration, or purchase (Hutchinson 1986, 49-50).3

  • 4 Royal Academy, Short Council Minutes, 1847.
  • 5 The Art Union of London, established in 1837, was the first of many Art Unions that sprung up acros (...)

11Royal Academy decisions also impacted the materials used on frames. In 1847 the Royal Academy Council adopted a resolution put forward by Thomas Uwins, a member of the Royal Academy and well known portrait, genre and landscape painter, that stipulated “[n]one but gold frames can be admitted.”4 This added a significant impost on artists; gilt frames were more expensive because of the additional time it takes the skilled artisan to prepare the moulding for water gilding and lay the leaf. The price of the material, gold leaf, also added to the cost of the frame. Another condition relating to frames was introduced in 1865 after the editors of the Art Union of London, (a lottery that awarded the winners a monetary prize for the purchase of artworks which included Academy exhibits) complained to the Royal Academy that their prize-winners had difficulty in selecting works from the Royal Academy Exhibitions due to the challenge of identifying which works were available for sale.5 To solve this issue the Directors decided to place “a red star on the frames of all works” daily to indicate which works had sold or were not available and a “note to this effect was added to the catalogue” (Hutchison 1986, 101). Frames now had an additional role of carrying a signifier of availability and commercial success. The red star on the frame was an easily recognisable indicator to all visitors of the desirability of that artist and their commercial success.

12While the Royal Academy’s exhibitions were largely the domain of the upper classes, exhibitions and trade fairs in the nineteenth century were another component that increased demand for frames. Exhibitions and large trade events proliferated throughout Britain in the nineteenth century and exposed the broader public to both art and manufacturing on an unprecedented scale (Kasumitsu 1980; Altick 1978). In London, there was a series of smaller exhibitions in 1847, 1848 and 1849 with visitor numbers in the tens of thousands. The Great Exhibition of 1851, held from 1 May to 15 October included thousands of framed items and welcomed a staggering six million attendees (Hobhouse 1995, 49). Following the success of the Great exhibition subsequent exhibitions followed including the Dublin Exhibition in 1852 and the 1862 London International Exhibition on Industry and Art showcasing over five thousand paintings, statues, engravings and architectural designs.These large exhibitions attracted visitors from all over Britain and overseas. Attending any one of these exhibitions, members of the public would have been bombarded by thousands of frames of all shapes, sizes and finishes of the highest standard. The extensive coverage of these exhibitions in the press both fed and reflected the growing public interest in art. For example, the Art Journal’s monthly circulation in 1839 was 700, and had reached 8,000 in 1850, a year later in 1851 it had skyrocketed (possibly as a result of the Great Exhibition as all the major London newspapers covered the exhibition extensively) to almost 25,000 (The Art Journal London 1851, 301). The continuous media attention given to numerous exhibitions played a pivotal role in exposing art and artists to the public, consequently fuelling the consumption of artworks and frames.

13Simultaneously, in response to the growing demand for artworks from both the aristocracy and the general public, the dealing of art, though not officially recognized as a “profession” until the 1850s, was establishing its identity. Many of those who began trading pictures had trained in associated crafts. John Smith, who became a renowned Bond Street picture dealer, spent the first seven years of his working life from 1794-1801 as an apprentice carver and gilder under William Hurwood, a carver and gilder of Conduit Street, Mayfair. In 1801, Smith completed his apprenticeship and the following year established his own business as a carver, gilder, looking-glass manufacturer and picture-frame maker (Sebag-Montefiore 2013, 53). In 1812, Smith was appointed picture frame maker to The Prince of Wales, later George IV. It was whilst making exceptional frames that Smith began dealing in art. Smith was not the only art dealer who had trained as a frame maker, carver and gilder.

14Like Smith, Thomas Agnew (1794-1871), who built what became the celebrated firm Thomas Agnew and Sons, was another of Britain’s successful art dealers and print publishers who trained as a frame maker. In 1810, Agnew undertook an apprenticeship with Vittore Zanetti, a skilled Italian carver and gilder located in Manchester. It was under Zanetti’s tutelage that Agnew gained an in-depth understanding of frames and frame making. In 1817, Agnew had joined Zanetti’s firm as a partner and, by 1835, Agnew was the sole proprietor. Zanetti’s diversified their income sources, advertising as “Carvers and Gliders, Looking Glass and Picture manufacturers, Barometer, Thermometer, Hydrometer, Saccharometer Makers, Printsellers, Publishers and Dealers in Ancient and Modern gold coins, medals and all kinds of curiosities” (Agnew 1967, 6). It was an impressive array of goods on offer, not uncommon in provincial centres such as Manchester. Both Smith and Agnew, as trained frame makers, understood the importance of the relationship between the frame and the artwork and the impact a frame could have on the desirability of the artwork to the viewer and hence its saleability.

  • 6 Charles Locke Eastlake (1863-1906) is often mistakenly confused with his uncle Sir Charles Lock Eas (...)

15To better inform the public who were confronted by a dazzling array of consumer goods available for purchase, interior household advice manuals provided guidance by declaring what to buy, what not to buy and how to display furniture and soft furnishings (Bawden 2015, xxvii-xxviii). Architect and furniture designer Charles Locke Eastlake’s Hints on Household taste, first published in 1868, became the bible for interior decorators and the aspirational middle classes.6 Eastlake was the arbiter of Victorian taste-making and his publication included instructions on all things domestic from choosing cutlery to curtains. Eastlake pays particular attention to the frame devoting a chapter to “Wall Furniture” (Eastlake 1877, 105). He writes that “the use of a picture-frame is obvious. It has to give additional strength to the light strainer of wood” and “lastly, it has on its outer face to form a border which, while ornamental in itself, shall tend, by dividing the picture from surrounding objects, to confine the gaze of the spectators within its limits” (117). He comments on materials and argues for the benefits of the solid carved wooden frames of the past, lamenting that a mantel mirror with a wooden frame made with composition is “a bad style of work, even if the design is tolerable” and declares anyone who puts one of these frames on their mantel “should be ashamed” (166). Eastlake critiques the decline of craftsmanship in frame making, noting that carved decoration was being substituted with composition ornament, commonly referred to as compo, a far cheaper and faster alternative for the frame maker compared to traditional carving. Eastlake was not sympathetic to the new material, arguing compo frames were “so brittle that, instead of protecting the picture […] [they] have to be handled more carefully than the glass itself.” Eastlake also included practical instructions on where to display the works in the home; oil paintings should be hung in a room on their own while family portraits should follow the old English custom and hang in the dining room, “enclosed in massive frames” (167). The remarkable amount of detail Eastlake devotes to the frame, the materials it is constructed of and where it is placed in a room, reflects its importance as an object within his ideal of the Victorian home.

16The symbolism that a domestic Victorian interior conveyed was of as much importance as its functionality as a space for its inhabitants. Objects became representative of more than their physical form; they became symbols of intangible values. The interior furnishings reflected the inhabitants’ morality (good) and their social status (well-to-do) (Cohen 2006). Accordingly, appropriate furnishings were the physical manifestation of refinement, both personal and family (Young 2003). The arrangement of objects in the domestic interior, as prescribed by household handbooks, influenced the aspirational middle classes to the furthest edges of the empire.

The Edges of the Empire: The Anglicising of Colonial Interiors

17The relative uniformity between Victorian interiors in Britain and those in the colonies was observed by the artist John Skinner Prout, who visited Van Diemen’s Land in January 1844. Prout wrote:

Much as I had been delighted on my arrival in Port Jackson with the varied beauty of the harbour […] I must confess my surprise was increased, when observing how considerable a taste for the elegancies of life was manifested in the fittings and furniture of the better class of residence; the walls of many of which were hung with paintings, varying in merit, but, on the whole, just as one would be likely to meet with in similar establishments in England. Of course this, in many instances, was attributable to the circumstance of the persons, emigrating to the colony, having brought their “household goods” with them […]. In the houses of a lower class the love of ornament was equally perceptible. (Prout 1848, 332)

  • 7 Bailey was a gifted cabinet maker having trained in London and died in Hobart in 5 July 1881, the d (...)

18Prout’s observation favourably comparing colonial domestic interiors to London’s was high praise indeed. One individual who arrived with a remarkable amount of goods and furniture was Bishop Francis Russell Nixon, the first Anglican Bishop of Van Diemen’s Land. Bishop Nixon sailed into Hobart Town on 18 July 1843 with his wife, five children, three servants and fifty-two cases of worldly possessions, including several framed artworks (Lane and Serle 1990, 69). This considerable number of goods ensured English domestic standards could be upheld in the Nixon’s new colonial abode. Anna Maria Nixon, the Bishop’s wife and an avid letter writer, proudly states to her father “everyone compliments me on my English-looking Household” (Nixon 1954, 20). On 5 July 1844, Anna Maria explains why they had brought their manservant John Richard Bailey with them from England, “for the express purpose of making furniture, and everything he puts in hand is in the best English style” (27).7 The following year, in a letter dated 12 February 1845, Anna Maria describes her drawing room:

Which is considerably improved […] to which Bailey has made a beautiful Huon Pine frame, and it is placed over the Huon Pine Bookcase; and we have two of Prout’s best water-colour views, […] with some old drawings of Varley’s and Turner’s, which the Bishop had framed for the exhibition, make in all 27 prints and drawings. (44)

19The profusion of framed artworks in Nixon's drawing room underscores the significance of both the frame and the artwork within the context of the domestic interior. Anna Maria's depictions of her interiors vividly convey the emphasis placed by new British immigrants on replicating English standards.

20The similarities commented on by Prout between colonial and English interiors are also found in contemporary literature. In the 1859 novel The Broad Arrow, Bridget, one of the characters reads aloud:

  • 8 Keese 1859, 88. The novel describes the tragic life of the beautiful Maida Gwynnham, who commits fo (...)

The accepted rules of polite society in Tasmanian, or indeed, Australian life. Rule Four: Never apply the term Colonial to anything but produce, Example: Never say of […] any domestic arrangement – It is so colonial. Reason: all colonists aspire to English thoughts, manners and habits.8

21Bridget explains that, under the same rule, a “lordly squatter” who is showing his home to a stranger, states “[my] place is so English you’ll think yourself at home when I take you round it. There Sir, isn’t that English?” (89). Both Anna-Maria’s descriptions of her interiors and Bridget’s explanations of how to compliment a Tasmanian emphasises the importance of Victorian domestic cultural codes to aspirational white settlers.

  • 9 The hand-written inscription on the title page is J. Leake VDL (Van Diemen’s Land) 1830 and is the (...)

22The resemblance of interiors was, in part, achieved with the assistance of English household manuals that travelled to the colonies as essential domestic items. In 1823 John Leake arrived in Van Diemen’s Land with his family and merchandise worth £3000. He was granted 2000 acres and built a profitable wool and wheat export business. Amongst Leake’s surviving domestic goods is a signed copy of Practical economy; or, the application of modern discoveries to the purposes of domestic life (1821) a manual giving economic advice on every aspect of domestic life.9 It includes novel hints for cleaning picture frames (interestingly, the cleaning of artworks was recommended to be left to “those who make it a profession” whereas frames could be cleaned by the home owner) by using “soap on a soft brush […] and the frame to be dried by placing it near the fire; after which the gilding must receive its polish by a brush […] dipped in powder of bread charcoal” (Practical Economy 1821, 122). These specific instructions on how to clean gilded picture frames reiterates their presence and importance in Victorian domestic interiors.

23The similarity between London and Van Diemen’s Land furnishings is a remarkable transnational feat of cultural continuity reassuring the newly arrived English visitor of the moral decency and social standing of the colonial residents. This domestic consistency was reinforced by the many household advice manuals, with their descriptions and prescriptions of domestic interiors, which played a central role in ensuring continuity of Victorian domestic standards in the colonies. This interior language created a shared transnational identity amongst the anglophone middle class.

The Edges of Art: 1830s Van Diemen’s Land

  • 10 The main export industries included sheep, cattle, ship building and whaling, with wool as unequivo (...)

24During the 1830s, a fledgling art scene in Van Diemen’s Land developed as colonial conditions changed (Smith 1985). The most significant was the cessation of the protracted war by the colonists against the original Palawa people (Aboriginal Tasmanians) that raged from 1804-1830. The ending of this brutal Black War helped Van Diemen’s Land prosper from its valuable export industries.10 This profit, gained through the dispossession of Tasmania’s first peoples, was further supported by the British Government funding convict transport that provided free labour available to all types of enterprise. As a result, in the 1830s, Tasmanian white free settlers, who became Tasmania’s “gentry,” enjoyed a level of prosperity above that of any other colony and had the financial means to invest in finer pursuits, including artworks.

25Two additional factors contributed to making the 1830s a pivotal decade for art in Van Diemen’s Land. Firstly, several convict artists who had arrived in the 1820s gained their freedom. Thomas Bock (engraver, portrait painter, daguerreotypist, photographer) received conditional freedom in June 1832 and gained a free pardon in November, Charles Henry Theodore Constantini (group portraits and houses) was given a certificate of freedom in March 1834 and William Buelow (still life painter) received a certificate of freedom in June 1835. Secondly, English trained artists arrived as free settlers to further bolster the number of artists, Robert Dowling (portraits) arrived in 1834, Benjamin Duterrau (painter, etcher, engraver) arrived in 1832, Henry Mundy (portraits) arrived in 1831. As these artists were all English trained, they understood the significance of the frame in presenting their work and enhancing its market appeal. This combination of convict and free artists contributed to an artistic milieu that was richer than any other Australian colony at the time.

  • 11 For a discussion on the challenges faced by watercolourists see Hansen 2003, 48-50.

26The 1830s also witnessed the arrival of Australia’s most important colonial artist, the landscape painter John Glover (Hansen 2003). Landing in Hobart Town on 18 February 1831, his sixty fourth birthday, Glover was the first artist to arrive in Australia with an established artistic reputation. The local press announced the “celebrated artist Mr Glover […] has come to sojourn with us” (“The Courier” 1831, 2). Although much has been written on Glover and his art, to date, his frames have received little attention. As a recognised London artist, Glover was commercially astute and understood the importance frames in the sale of his works. In a letter to Sir Thomas Phillipps, Glover’s most ardent collector and patron, dated 13 March 1825 Glover writes “The frames I have had made for you are the new pattern under my own direction and which I am much pleased with myself […]. I have already procured frames for the large Middle Hill and the five last purchased and wish so much to have you see the pattern before I order the smaller ones” (Glover 2005). Glover was clearly interested in frames as he selected the design of both the moulding profile and composition details. Glover was also involved in how water colours were framed, as his tenure as President of the Old Water Colour Society, from 1807-1808, although brief, occurred at a time when watercolourists were trying to raise the status of watercolours vis-à-vis oil paintings.11 At the Royal Academy’s annual exhibitions, watercolours suffered the indignity of being relegated to smaller anterooms and cost significantly less than oils. In an attempt to raise the standing of watercolours, watercolourists framed their works in the same style as oil paintings by aligning the rebate of the frame flush to the edge of the paper. This removed the visual differences between watercolours and oil paintings. Replicating the framing style used by oil paintings was an attempt to achieve financial and status parity with oil on canvas artworks. Thus, Glover was not only interested in framing, but he was also interested in using frames to raise the profile of watercolours in the eyes of the public.

  • 12 Rudolf Ackermann was a well-known London printer and publisher.

27It must have come as a surprise to Glover when he arrived in Hobart Town to discover there were no frame making businesses. Luckily, he did not have to wait long as in 1834 two carving and gilding businesses began advertising: George Henry Peck in Hobart Town and James Bennell in Launceston. With a limited number of clients, both carvers and gilders diversified their incomes by offering a range of services in addition to carving and gilding. George Peck advertised as a “carver, gilder, ornamental drawer, binder, designer” as well as selling “lithographic and other prints, drawing paper, writing paper, fancy cards,” and violin lessons (“Advertising,” Trumpeter General 1834, 2). To further diversify his income Peck organised a “Grand Lottery” with a “splendid collection of Pictures, just arrived from Ackermann’s, which are to be disposed by lottery” (“Advertising,” True Colonist 1834, 4).12 James Bennell’s advertised services included house painter, picture repairer, packing of artworks, goods for sale including barometers, and carver and gilder (“Advertising,” Launceston Advertiser September 1834). By September of the same year, Bennell expanded his business to “every description of ornamental work in his trade; painting or graining of furniture, the manufacture of gold and black picture frames, borders for rooms, window poles and cornices” (“Advertising,” Launceston Advertiser October 1834, 2). Despite this need to diversify services, there was a demand for frame makers as two years later in 1836 Robin Vaughan Hood opened his carving, gilding and bookseller business in Hobart Town (Kerr 1992, 371). Hood’s business profited from the convict system as he employed a range of skilled convicts including a cabinet maker James Drummond, two gilders Phillip Dufty and John Clarke, a Japanner W.G. Milward, a French polisher William Beckwith and a painter Edmund Sheafy (Registers of the Employment 1848-57). Twelve years later Hood expanded his business offerings considerably when he purchased the lithographic equipment of J.S. Prout, advertising a variety of printing services (“Lithography” 1848, 1). Early frame makers diversified their business offerings as a strategy to ensure financial viability. One effective method of sustaining ongoing business involved establishing and nurturing relationships with artists.

28One of Hood’s regular customers was Thomas Bock. Bock, a formally trained engraver and self-taught portrait painter, who went on to become Hobart’s most fashionable portrait painter in the 1840s, paid particular attention to his stretchers so it is likely his interest extended to framing (McArthur and Mulford 1991, 80). Bock framed his watercolours and oils in the same style, a wide, flattish style moulding veneered local timber (Huon pine, musk and blackwood). These local timbers were highly sought after in London. Unlike Bock, Glover largely framed his works in gilt frames with a notable exception. In 1835, Glover sent a consignment of works to London for exhibition and sale. Whilst most of these canvases would have been sent rolled up, there were two works that were sent framed in local timbers. The Hobart Town Courier recorded “two beautiful views in this island, taken by Mr Glover, which were much admired. The frames made from our native timber, added to the interest of pictures drawn by so eminent an artist at so remote a distance” (“The Courier” 1832, 2). It is noteworthy that Glover sent two framed works to London, which would have involved considerable transport costs; to survive the months long sea voyage artworks needed a hard wooden case. Being familiar with the gilt frames of Academicians, having exhibited at the Royal Academy, he deliberately chose to frame these works in local timbers. Not only would the timber frames add a point of difference to his two works, it would also possibly increase the chance of a sale. However, these timber frames were the exception as the majority of Glover’s original frames were gilded.

Fig. 1: John Glover, Swilker Oak, 1840, oil on canvas, Clarendon House, National Trust of Australia, Tasmania. Original William Wilson frame, water gilded with composition ornament.

Fig. 1: John Glover, Swilker Oak, 1840, oil on canvas, Clarendon House, National Trust of Australia, Tasmania. Original William Wilson frame, water gilded with composition ornament.

29The gilt frame on John Glover’s The Swilker Oak (see Fig. 1) retains its original frame made by William Wilson, a Launceston frame maker, carver and gilder, who produced decorative gilt frames from his arrival in about 1842 until the mid-1850s. This work belonged to Charles Weedon who had migrated to Van Dieman’s Land alongside Glover on the ship, the Thomas Lawrie. Whilst it is impossible to say whether Glover or Weedon chose the frame, as they were close, Glover would have been consulted in the frame selection.

Fig. 2 : William Paul Dowling, Portrait of Robin Vaughan Hood, circa 1851, oil on canvas. Original Robin Lloyd Hood frame. Collection of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania.

Fig. 2 : William Paul Dowling, Portrait of Robin Vaughan Hood, circa 1851, oil on canvas. Original Robin Lloyd Hood frame. Collection of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania.

Fig. 3 : William Paul Dowling, Portrait of Sarah Lloyd Hood, circa 1851, oil on canvas. Original Robin Lloyd Hood frame. Collection of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania.

Fig. 3 : William Paul Dowling, Portrait of Sarah Lloyd Hood, circa 1851, oil on canvas. Original Robin Lloyd Hood frame. Collection of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania.

30The portraits of Robin Vaughan Hood (see Fig. 2) and Sarah Lloyd Hood (see Fig. 3) were painted by William Paul Dowling in 1851. When Dowling arrived in Hobart Town on 9 December 1849, he received his ticket of leave on his arrival and agreed to work for Hood for a month trial as an artist and lithographer (Glover and MacLochlainn 2005, 52). Dowling and Hood were close as Hood included Dowling at meals “like one of his sons,” lent him money and gave Dowling the choice to either continue to work for him or establish his own business (53). When Dowling married at St Joseph’s Catholic Church on 8 May 1850, Hood, and his wife Sarah were the two witnesses (Kerr 1992, 219). Whether Hood paid for the portraits of himself and Sarah or they were a gift from Dowling is unknown, however, these portraits had significant meaning for the Hoods because of their shared friendship. The frames themselves exemplify Hood’s exceptional design, execution and gilding skills and were comparable to portrait frames being offered by London establishments catering to the aspiring middle classes.

  • 13 Rudolph Ackermann first called his Gallery “The Repository of Arts” in 1798 and used the gallery na (...)

31Carvers and gilders were not immune to colonial cultural conditioning, naming their exhibitions spaces after well-known English establishments. George Peck called his Argyle Street Rooms “Repository of Arts” after Rudolph Ackermann’s famous gallery in London.13 Robin Vaughan named his newly finished Colonial Picture Gallery located next door to his framing shop in Liverpool Street “Somerset House” after the home of the Royal Academy of Art in London (Mulford 1997). By borrowing English establishment names associated with exhibitions of artworks, colonial carvers and gilders wanted the public to favourably compare their wares with their esteemed English business namesakes.

  • 14 Sir John Franklin was appointed as the Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land and arriving in Hob (...)
  • 15 Anna Maria Nixon sent the catalogue to her father. The original is in the Tasmanian Archives Herita (...)

32Beyond displaying art, exhibitions of art in Van Diemen’s Land were regarded as an activity that improved the values of individuals. With their new exhibition spaces, Peck and Hood contributed to the broadening of public access to art through the exhibitions they hosted. In 1837, Hobart Town held its first ever exhibition at George Peck’s Argyle rooms under the patronage of Sir John and Lady Franklin.14 It was an important first for Hobart Town and the press associated the exhibition with improving the colony’s morals. The exhibition was reported as “[s]omething […] wanting to refine and elevate a community above moral delights, for if it is to be left to depend upon these it is likely to become grovelling and contemptible indeed. The characters of those who are offspring of this country, require to be Europeanized” (“Local” 1837, 2). Hobart Town’s first exhibition with a surviving catalogue, was held on 6 January 1845 in the Legislative Council Chambers, announced as the first Van Diemen’s Land Exhibition of Paintings, it was declared a “miniature Somerset House affair” in the press.15 Exhibiting 267 works it was an impressive array and both Bishop Nixon and Prout were on the organising committee (Adkins and Thomson 78-80). The following year on 24 May 1846, the committee held The Hobart Art Exhibition of selected works in Robin Vaughan Hood’s newly finished “Somerset House” picture gallery (Mulford 1997). By holding exhibitions in their galleries, carvers and gilders were at the heart of arts in Hobart Town. Their exhibitions supported Hobart Town’s working artists and exposed the public to both local and international artists.

  • 16 The Van Diemen’s Land Mechanics’ Institute, Hobart, opened in 1827 and was the first such institute (...)

33Both in England and Van Diemen’s Land the growing interest in exhibitions exposed the public to more art than ever before. Art exhibitions were important as the early colonial cultural cultivators were keen to relinquish the “penal colony” categorisation. In 1837, the same year Hobart Town held its first exhibition, Benjamin Duterrau gave a lecture on art at the Hobart Mechanics Institute arguing that an interest in the artistic endeavours helps civilize society.16 This view was reinforced in the local paper which, when reporting on Duterrau’s presentation, wrote: “We cordially agree with the lecturer in his observations on the beneficial influence which a taste for the Fine Arts produces in society” (“Mechanics’ Institution” 1838, 7). In the colonial outpost of Van Diemen’s Land, artworks and their frames were valued tangible objects interconnected with intangible private and public cultural values.

34In the whirlwind that was the London art market of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, a series of small decisions had a profound influence on the framing of artworks. The decisions by the Royal Academy affecting frames and the popularity of their exhibitions directly influenced how the artists framed their artworks and the public’s perception of the display of art. The emergence of picture dealers who were trained carvers and gilders and the rise in consumer consumption contributed to frames as a necessary companion to artworks. The proliferation of household manuals written and published to help guide the public through the pitfalls of cultural consumption prescribed how art should be displayed. These “how to” publications reflected how interiors were not only an assemblage of objects, but also a social device to establish and uphold one’s position in society. The inherent Victorian cultural values these publications imbued were transported to the newly formed British settler colonies, and although there was no art market ecosystem comparable to London, the early British settlers adhered to Victorian interior design dictums which placed importance on the display of art. The frame in Van Diemen’s Land was a ubiquitous chaperone to the early colonial artworks. It was carefully considered by the artist, made by expert craftsmen and valued as an object within the home. Examining the frame within the social and cultural milieu in which it is produced reveals an array of attitudes to the conception, perception and reception of frames. This brief history confirms nineteenth century Australian colonial frames deserve to be elevated from their obscurity at the edge of art history.

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Notes

1 This research has been generously supported by a Carol Moya Mills Summer Scholarship at the National Library of Australia and a grant from the Plomley Foundation, Queen Victorian Museum and Art Gallery.

2 See “The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769-2018”, https://chronicle250.com/

3 Not only could frame designs result in a less than desirable position at the Royal Academy’s Summer exhibition; one disgruntled former student blamed the frame maker for the rejection of their artwork. In a letter to the Editor of the Art Union, a widely circulated monthly art periodical of the 1840s, they complained that the frame maker had made an ungainly frame “disproportionately large, and the ornaments […] foolishly extended on all sides.” (An Old Student 1840, 5-6)

4 Royal Academy, Short Council Minutes, 1847.

5 The Art Union of London, established in 1837, was the first of many Art Unions that sprung up across Europe and America.

6 Charles Locke Eastlake (1863-1906) is often mistakenly confused with his uncle Sir Charles Lock Eastlake (1793-1865) who was the inaugural director of the National Gallery, a painter, collector and writer. Confusingly, they both held the position of Keeper of the National Gallery at different times.

7 Bailey was a gifted cabinet maker having trained in London and died in Hobart in 5 July 1881, the death registry recorded his rank as gentleman. I am indebted to Robyn Lake for these details.

8 Keese 1859, 88. The novel describes the tragic life of the beautiful Maida Gwynnham, who commits forgery at the behest of her unscrupulous lover, is wrongfully convicted of infanticide and transported to Van Diemen’s Land. The arrow referred to in the title was stamped onto government property, including clothes and was a symbol of incarnation and shame. This was the first and only novel of Caroline Leakey writing as Oliné Keese and was written fifteen years before Marcus Clarke’s classic For the Term of His Natural Life (1874). Caroline Leakey lived with the Nixon’s for some time after 1851 and Bishop Nixon encouraged her to print her poems. See Adkins and Thomson 2020, 29-30.

9 The hand-written inscription on the title page is J. Leake VDL (Van Diemen’s Land) 1830 and is the collection of the Caroline Simpson Library, Sydney.

10 The main export industries included sheep, cattle, ship building and whaling, with wool as unequivocally the largest and most profitable. See Reynolds 2012.

11 For a discussion on the challenges faced by watercolourists see Hansen 2003, 48-50.

12 Rudolf Ackermann was a well-known London printer and publisher.

13 Rudolph Ackermann first called his Gallery “The Repository of Arts” in 1798 and used the gallery name for his publication Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, an illustrated British periodical published from 1809 to 1829. Interestingly, in 1819, Ackermann, having already received a New South Wales land grant, applied for more land, this time in Van Diemen’s Land. See Ford 1983, 18, 69.

14 Sir John Franklin was appointed as the Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land and arriving in Hobart Town in 1837.

15 Anna Maria Nixon sent the catalogue to her father. The original is in the Tasmanian Archives Heritage Office NS 31.

16 The Van Diemen’s Land Mechanics’ Institute, Hobart, opened in 1827 and was the first such institute in Australia.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: John Glover, Swilker Oak, 1840, oil on canvas, Clarendon House, National Trust of Australia, Tasmania. Original William Wilson frame, water gilded with composition ornament.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/sillagescritiques/docannexe/image/15038/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 592k
Titre Fig. 2 : William Paul Dowling, Portrait of Robin Vaughan Hood, circa 1851, oil on canvas. Original Robin Lloyd Hood frame. Collection of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/sillagescritiques/docannexe/image/15038/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 572k
Titre Fig. 3 : William Paul Dowling, Portrait of Sarah Lloyd Hood, circa 1851, oil on canvas. Original Robin Lloyd Hood frame. Collection of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/sillagescritiques/docannexe/image/15038/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 609k
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Anita Gowers, « Framing Colonial Australia: A Socio-historical Articulation of the Display of Art »Sillages critiques [En ligne], 35 | 2023, mis en ligne le 14 novembre 2023, consulté le 04 mars 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/sillagescritiques/15038 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/sillagescritiques.15038

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Auteur

Anita Gowers

Australian National University, Canberra

Anita Gowers has worked at several Australian Universities across a range of disciplines, from neuroscience to the creative industries. She has a passion for picture frames and an in-depth understanding of frame design and materials gained through her work as a picture frame designer. Anita is currently undertaking a PhD on the Australian picture framing industry at the Australian National University, Canberra.

Anita Gowers a travaillé dans plusieurs universités australiennes dans un large éventail de disciplines, des neurosciences aux industries créatives. Elle est passionnée par les cadres et possède une connaissance approfondie de la conception des cadres et des matériaux, qu’elle a acquise en tant que conceptrice de cadres. Anita prépare actuellement un doctorat sur l’industrie australienne de l'encadrement, à l'université nationale australienne de Canberra.

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