30 May 2009

C19th courthouse architecture: rural Victoria

James Beight, a Washington architect, suggested that "No other build­ing type communicates as much about our society as does the courthouse." Courthouses, he argued, are a little like medieval cathed­rals: they express the will and the hopes of the people. Perhaps he was correct, at least in the C19th. Concurring Opinions » Old Courthouse Architecture was posted by Daniel Solove. He noted that Amer­ic­an courthouses “used to be built as solemn, neo-classical style structures”. Most of his respondents seemed to prefer the traditional and the solemn.

I wasn't sure if C19th rural Victoria required neo-classical courthouses necessarily, but I did think that towns would go for gravitas. Gold was discovered in country Victoria in 1852 and the immediate influx of miners to the region resulted in sudden population surges. A gold town needed three facilities (apart from pubs) to be built as soon as the population grew: a courthouse, a police force and banks. Life was a bit rough and ready in rural Victoria in the 1850s and 60s, so courts and police stations needed to be solid, elegant and displaying the gravitas of colonial government. Although small, the courthouses had to frighten potential criminals into moral behaviour. So did the police station and the holding cells, next door.

Beechworth external (top), 
photos of the courtroom (centre), 

The architectural information came from Victorian Heritage Database - COURT HOUSE. I imagine that except for the larger rural cities, some of these courthouses were only used one day a month, when the judge arrived on his circuit. Cases presumably ranged from petty crime (eg public drunkedness) to bush-ranging and bank robberies.

In Creswick, the courthouse was one of the largest courthouses built during this era. The upper part housed a gallery, the smaller side wings housed off­ices and judges chambers. Built of blue stone in 1859, this small squat building has 6 tiny barred win­d­ows and heavy steel door. The Old Lock Up built next door was needed as soon as the court house was built. The Old Pol­ice Stat­ion 1861, next to the court, came slightly later. It provided the police station and police accom­mod­ation, in one complex. The Old Gold Bank was built in 1860, with a second storey finished 1864.

Beechworth became the central town of the Ovens River goldfields and the administrative centre for NE Victoria. In 1856-60, the government demolished many timber buildings from the early gold rush days, making way for the more sub­st­antial granite structures. Of course a gaol was an early neces­sity 1853 and very soon after the law courts 1857, a hos­p­ital 1856, hospital for the aged, a mental asylum and a flour mill 1855. The courthouse 1857-9 was built of granite and feat­ured a cent­ral block with gab­led ends containing the main courtroom, flanked by office wings. There were ver­andas outside and a public vestibule inside.


Castlemaine's first court building was in 1858. This classical court-house was similar to the courthouse at Beechworth, with a small front porch, a single side cell wing on the east side and stucco mouldings. A smaller police court stood to the west at the same time. The courthouse was designed by John Marsden of the Public Works Dept. William Wardell’s modifications were completed in 1878-9, to provide services for the Supreme Court and County Court, including facilities for juries, which were now required in the larg­er regional centres such as Castlemaine. War­dell was asked to be frugal, "the sim­pler the better, so long as proper architect­ural effect is pres­erved". The painted stuccoed brick building had clerestory windows which lit the court room. Plain cornice mouldings adorned the front porch and the front gable of the court room featured a triangular Roman pediment. Inside, courtroom was austere, with plain walls and ceiling, and furnished in light coloured timber. There were also offices, holding cells block and judges chambers.

Many of Kilmore's oldest extant buildings were made of bluestone ihe 1860s, including the hospital, old court house, former post office, some churches and the gaol. Police court sittings commenced in Kilmore first and soon county court and general sessions began. The courthouse 1863 was designed by J J Clark under the sup­er­vision of William Wardell of the Public Works Dept (two of Victoria’s most famous architectural names). The basalt building consisted of a double height courtroom with a hipped slate roof that was flanked by lower wings and entered through an arcade porch. Two basalt columns and two pilasters carried the three arches of the porch. Three pairs of double doors opened from the Italian Renaissance porch.

The court house in Yackandandah 1864 was built as both a mining and magistrate’s court. By the time Yackan­d­andah was surveyed in 1856, it had already established itself as a significant settlement, alongside nearby Beech­worth. Designed by Gustav Joachimi of the Public Works Dept in a conservative classical style, the single storey brick courthouse and corrugated iron roof had a simple gable courtroom with three main rooms in the rear and an arched brick porch at the front. Distinctive local bricks were used to produce detailing to the main roof gable and around the entrance arches. Yackandandah’s buildings like the ch­urches, classic revival court-house 1864, Public Hall and Athenaeum 1878 were nice, but they always remained small.


Ararat was declared a municipality in 1858. Work on a hospital, water supply, cem­etery, botanical gar­dens, mechanics institute, church and courthouse began in 1859. Ararat's courthouse was constructed in 1867, built on the site of a smaller court building. The 1867 ver­s­ion was built in the Romanesque style with decorative red brick work.

Stawell’s old courthouse was built in 1860, later used as police bar­racks. When the population centre shifted to Big Hill area, an elegant new courthouse 1880 was opened, from local granite and freestone. Next to the courthouse was Police Precinct, with a 2-cell lock-up that was built at the same time as the courthouse. The rest of the land was occupied by the 4-stalls of the police stables and the fine resid­ence of the Wimmera police superintendent.


The old sandstone Court House 1853 in Buninyong was abandoned when a combined town hall and court house was built in 1886-8. The building was designed in the Italianate style and featured arch-headed windows, projecting cornices, balustrading, pediments and parapet urns. Note the central slate roofed tower with and dormer ventilators. Even though the gold had run out by 1880, they still created a grand building on a rectang­ular plan with a central town hall flanked by the courthouse, magistrates' room and clerk of petty sessions offices to one side, and by the town clerk's office, council chambers and mayor's office to the other.

Buninyong, courthouse to the left, town hall to the right

It would be interesting to know if towns with a gold-rush history were more concerned about law and order than other towns.

27 May 2009

Biblical Stories in Art: James Tissot

Every Protestant artist, archaeologist and photographer worth his salt spent time in the Holy Land during the second half of the C19th. I am revisiting James Tissot because he seemed an unlikely candidate for a religious revelation and for Biblical themes in his art.

The Peddlers Donkey blog noted that Tissot’s pictures in London were virt­ual­ly an instant success with the art viewing and buy­ing public, but not with the critics and colleagues in France where he was regarded as a very minor figure. The critical hos­tility Tissot’s pictures met was strange. The main criticisms were that the pictures were really only painted photographs, and they were vul­gar. The pictures clearly showed shallow nouveau-riche English soc­iety at its worst which may, or may not have been Tissot’s intention.

Tissot, Jethro and Moses

When the love of Tissot’s life died, he sold up and returned to France, devoting the rest of his life to religious paintings. He visited the Middle-East twice (1886-7 & 1889) , to absorb himself in a religious landscape. As he aged, Tissot became more interested in Spiritualism.

Tissot, The Golden Calf

Bearded Roman blog tackled Tissot’s religious interests in a post on The Prodigal Son in Modern Life Series. Mr Roman wrote that during the 1880s Tissot had a religious awakening and produced a number of works inspired by the Bible. In 1885, he had an epiphany that led him on a pilgrimage to cathedrals in France and to create a series of 35 scenes from the life of Christ. Three versions of the Prodigal Son story remained in his studio until his death in 1902 and were then offered to the Louvre, which would not take them. Instead, the three paintings were taken by Musée de Nantes, located in Tissot’s hometown, where they remain today.

Tissot, The Raising of Lazarus

I have cited Cris, Artist in Oregon before on James Tissot; he suggested that Tissot loved to paint beautiful clothes, espec­ially woman's dresses, elaborately frilled and fresh. Tissot’s parents ran a clothing business in his youth and he was a well dressed young man himself. Tissot used models and kept costumes and props to dress up the models for his paintings; he used the models and clothes often. Scholars and Rogues agreed, stating that every nuance in clothing, every frill and tuck, every trend was touched and built by human hands and human imagin­ation. That Tissot liked to paint gorgeous young things in London may not surprise us. That his Biblical characters were richly kitted out might be something we may not have expected, especially in males.

The culmination of Tissot's 10-year long mission was the French and English publications of "The Life of Christ", according to the Georgina Kelman blog. It was an immediate success and Tissot's 350 original watercolours were presented to huge acclaim at the Paris Salon of 1894 and later in a trans-Atlantic travelling exhibition including London, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. In 1900, at the urging of John Singer Sargent, the brand new Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (now the Brooklyn Museum) decided to purchase the complete series of watercolours. They remained on display until 1930. Look at her blog for Tissot's The Annunciation,
Tissot, Prodigal Son in Modern Life

I suppose if the Jewish Museum in New York had not pulled all of Tissot’s Biblical images together in its 1982 exhibition, I would have assumed his religious themes consisted of quickly created, late C19th water colours and drawings. Instead they were rich and intense, not as polished as his secular images to be sure, but still interesting.

We can compare Tissot's Biblical images to William Holman Hunt’s ...or Horace Vernet’s. For the last 17 years of his life, Tissot observed and depicted local landscape in detail, put effort into the religious clothing, displayed an interesting view on Biblical stories and painted splendid, young men and women.

24 May 2009

Gold Rush Architecture - Ballarat

As the shallower gold deposits ran out in Ballarat, deep-lead mining ventures started up. Of course these projects demanded larger capital investment by companies, rather than hopeful individual miners armed with an axe and screen. Some 300 mining companies were working the Ballarat goldfields in the late 1860s and by 1868 the population on the goldfields reached 64,000.

Unicorn Hotel

For many years, during and after the hysteria of the Gold Rush, share brokers in Ballarat's mining companies conducted their trading outside the Unicorn Hotel in Sturt St. The Unicorn, started 1856, had provided the dealers and their customers with shade, seating and a ready supply of alcohol. But the increase in trading meant that this system was not going to last for very long. And for people who know Ballarat, the climate condit­ions were difficult: very hot and bone dry in summer, cold and wet in winter.

So they purpose-built the Ballar­at Mining Exchange in Lydiard St. Designed by CD Figgis and built by W Robert­son, the site chosen was in Bank Row where much of the City's commer­c­ial activity has been conducted. As it happened, the Mining Exchange was built on the very site where troopers gath­ered in 1854, before setting off to quell a revolt by miners at the Eureka Stockade. Much to the disgust of most workers in central Victoria.
Ballarat Mining Exchange, 1888

Opened in 1888, the grand hall of Ballarat's Mining Exchange was lined with forty separate “offices” in which share-brokers and mining agents sold shares in goldmines. The Ballarat Mining Exchange quickly became the wealthiest stock ex­change in Australia.
The Exchange closed down in 1914 since there were no able bodied young men left in or near Ballarat. And with the miners off fighting in Europe, Ballarat's last gold mine finally closed operations in 1918. Art Monte-Carlo blog reported an amazing bit of art history connected to this building, in The Bush at the Ancient Gold Fields of Creswick, Australia. Artist Matthew Moss found the abandoned gold exchange soon after he arrived in Australia. Happily it still retain­ed many of its beautiful original Victorian features eg its superb original glass and carved timber vaulted roof. So the artist decided to restore it to its original state and for many years used it as his studio and where it became the centre for conservation for the many art museums in the state.

Mining Exchange interior, small offices on both sides

So the entire building was renovated according to the original plans. And the beautifully ornate veranda was reconstructed from photographs and replaced in 1987. Today the old Mining Exchange is used for inform­ation, display and research. For example Explore, Discover, Connect blog showed how the Central Highlands Regional Library brought a variety of the treasures of the Australiana Research Room to this beautiful building. Cocktail Rings and Vintage Things blog discussed a vintage clothing exhibition.

22 May 2009

Huguenot Symbol - how deeply encoded was it?

My passion for Huguenot art has always been in gold and silver-smithing and in silk weaving, not in jewellery. But the Huguenot Cross presents a particular intellectual challenge.

In general, most histories suggest that the first Huguenot Cross was produced in 1688 by the goldsmith Maystre of Nîmes. This was only a few years after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes which had left all French Calvinists without citizenship and its protections. At a time when being caught out as a Protestant could lead to dragonnades, prison, forced baptism into the Catholic faith, galley ships, slavery in the West Indies or even death, it has been suggested that the cross represented the Huguenots desire to declare loyalty and fid­el­ity to the French Crown, at the same time reiterating their belief in the reformed faith.

Huguenot cross, one of the many possible variations in colour, material and design

Annkroeker blog in The Huguenot Cross noted that the shape of this cross was mod­elled after the Maltese Cross. The cross was empty, further symbol­ising His victory over death. Eight points around the edges added up to represent the 8 Beatitudes. Between the arms of the cross, the fancier pendants had the image of a flower of French or­igins, the fleur-de-lys which represented the Trinity. There were four fleur-de-lys, one for each of the gospels. The inner ring formed by the string of fleur-de-lys represented Jesus’ mocking crown of thorns. And of course the dove symbolised the Holy Spirit.

Beautiful Feet blog in The Huguenot Cross told a very specific tale about a group of Huguenots that had gathered for a secret wedding ceremony, somewhere in the Cevennes. The preacher was busy marrying four young couples when the dreaded French Dragoons appeared on the scene. Many of them escaped, but two of the bridal couples were caught. Of course they were given a choice: become Roman Catholic or die at the stake. They refused to recant their Huguenot beliefs and true to their faith, they were burnt at the stake on their wedding day. A metal worker from Nimes saw it all, and made a small medallion. His nucleus resem­bled the Maltese Cross, the symbol of the Crusaders, while the four arms of the cross were linked with a smaller circle which refers to the flames that united them.
These analyses of the design sources for the Huguenot Cross may well be correct. But its very existence back in 1688 was hugely problem­atic. To have a secret symbol that would allow Huguenots to identify like-minded people would have been very sensible, assuming that only Huguenots could decode the symbol. As soon as the Huguenot Cross became known as a symbol of Protestant Heresy to everyone in France, that sym­bol ceased being of comfort to Huguenots. Rather it would have made them even more liable to dragonnades, prison, forced baptism into the Catholic faith, galley ships, slavery in the West Indies and death.

Raspal, Portrait of a Young Woman in Arles Costume, 1779*

I think The Dupreez Family blog (see HUGUENOT EXODUS) is correct. The Hug­uenot Cross became an official symbol of the French Protestant church only after the Edict of Toleration in 1787; since then, Huguenot de­s­cendants have been proud to display this piece of jewellery as a safe symbol of recognition between them. Alas for my theory, 18thC Cuisine blog displayed in Passover & Days of Unleavened Bread a beautiful 1779 painting by Raspal from Arles in Provence. The promin­ent display of the Huguenot cross on his model suggests that the Calvinists were surviving openly in Provence, before the Edict of Toleration.

19 May 2009

Crossness, London - amazing Victorian architecture

At the behest of another famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Joseph Bazalgette was appointed chief engineer of the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers in 1856. The pumping station was built by Bazalgette as part of Victorian London's urgently needed main sewerage system. Very urgent! The smell of this huge city must have been intolerable, not to mention the ongoing risk of deadly disease. The River Thames was so heavily polluted with raw sewage before Crossness Pumping Station was built that members of parliament thought of abandoning the recently opened Palace of Westminster.

The new network took sewage to the edge of London (Greenwich) where it could be stor­ed in huge underground reservoirs before being pumped out into the Thames at high tide. Then it could flow out to sea without polluting the city's drinking supply. When Crossness was official­ly opened by the Prince of Wales in April 1865, he said that the importance of this sanitation process to the long-term health of South London was vital.

My interest in Crossness is not as an outstanding example of Vict­orian engineering, although that was impressive. Sir Joseph commis­sioned the well-known engineer James Watt to create and build the steam engines that would be needed to power the pumps. The giant rotary beam engines and pumps did the job heroically and although there were major modifications after 1856, Bazalgette’s vision carried Crossness through till 1956.

Crossness, East London

My interest is in the architecture, an absolute surprise and delight in an extremely utilitarian project like sewage. From the outside, the design included rather ornate brick work, Romanesque window arches and door columns.

One of the engines

But the interior.. oh the interior! Crossness pumping station was an amazing and ex­t­rav­­agant display of Victorian painted cast ironwork. But, she said, the scale and importance of the endeavour surely justified such exuberance. I love her refer­ence to Nikolaus Pevsner who said this building was a 'cathedral to ironwork'. I also liked the fact that the four engines were named for the royal family: Victoria, Prince Consort, Prince of Wales Albert Edward and Princess of Wales Alexandra.

John Shewell in The Great Steam Cathedral loved the ornately iron fittings of course, but he was particularly taken by the mini sculptures, the steel lattice floor and the huge skylight on the roof to let in light through­out the vast interior. For him, all these elements contributed towards the feeling of being inside a Cathedral. The scale of the operation was huge: four engines stood in the four corners of the building, whilst the centre was taken up by the ut­terly gorgeous octagonal structure. The monogram of the Metrop­olitan Board of Works featured throughout, and the contractor included his own name prominently on one side.


Since the general public would never see the inside of a pumping station, who was all the decorative ironwork designed for? There was plenty of internal space for the workers, plus a lovely garden for their leisure outside. But I don’t think Crossness was designed for the workers’ pleasure. Crossness Pumping Station was a pioneering and palatial piece of Victorian architecture: Joseph Bazalgette designed it palatially because he could.

Joseph Bazalgette must have been loving his work.The original Abbey Mills Pumping Station in East London E15 was also designed by Bazalgette and architect Charles Driver, soon after Crossness was up and running (1865-8). Not dissimilar to Crossness, Abbey Mills was built in an even more ambitious Byzantine style, complete with a slate mansard roof and central dome. The round headed windows had polychrome decoration while the larger central window to the upper storey was divided by cast ironwork. This Victorian wonder was so cathedral-like, the chimney resembled a campanile.

Abbey Mills Pumping Station, East London

Tired of London blog has added a useful post on Markfield Beam Engine and Museum in Tottenham. Victorian / Edwardian Paintings has added a post on one of Brunel’s engineering triumphs, The Thames Tunnel. Opened in 1852, a few years before Crossness, the tunnel was also a perfectly functional bit of city infrastructure that took on a huge significance for Victorians. Apparently there was nothing scientific, architectural, engineering and beautiful that they could not design and build. Unmitigated England has written about the Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester. Once used for pumping sewage up to Beaumont Leys in Leicester, the incredible Gimson steam engines still look very impressive in a Victorian Valhalla of decorated iron pillars.

17 May 2009

Ballindalloch Castle - Victorian country home architecture

Ballindalloch is one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland, lo­c­ated in the heart of Speyside. Fortunately for all the generations of Ballindalloch gentry, the castle is near the 4 famous local whisky distilleries, incl­ud­ing Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. There are more whisky distilleries on the banks of the River Spey than on any other river.

The constr­uction of the tower house castle reflected the turbulent times in which C16th people had to survive. The tower house itself served as the noble family’s residence, and it was surrounded by a range of features which were essential for defence. Of course the peasants outside the castle had to hope that, in times of crisis, they would be able to gain protection inside the castle wall. Throughout what must have been a difficult history since the mid C16th, the castle has been cont­in­uously occupied by the Russell and Macpherson-Grant families.
The ex­act year of the first castle on the site is unknown, but "1546" is carved into a stone lintel in one of today’s bedrooms. As with all castles, Ballindalloch has been expanded and updated, according to the needs of each gener­ation of the family. Needs and tastes constantly changed. Ballindalloch Cas­t­le showed how a build­ing moved from a fortified castle, neces­sary in unpredictable C16th Scotland, to a very liveable Victorian home.

Late Victorian castle, as it looks today

What happened to the original tower house? After it was plundered and burned by James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, it was restored in 1645. Ext­ensions were added in 1770. The Castle grounds suffered severely from the 1829 floods, when the mansion house itself was inundated on the ground floor to a metre deep. So in 1850 there were more changes by the architect Thomas MacKenzie: the C19th wings added to the original ground plan. At a time when the building might have become more modern, it was actually given a MORE castellated appearance, with the addition of gabled dormer windows, stair turrets with conical roofs and decorative panels. The Hall, with its grand staircase and its unusual umbrella design and fan vaulting, was part of the 1850s renovations. So were the elegant drawing room, dining room, library and nursery.
The Taste for Travel blog has given us a nice analysis of how the estate came down through the current female descendant of the family. And why she made changes in 1965.
Drawing room

The castle grounds contain sublime late C19th gardens which have been retained, as photographed in the blogs Travels with my camera in Scotland and Beyond and Holidays in Glenlivet and Speyside, Scotland. The rivers Spey and Avon flow through the grounds, offering excellent sport which can be seen in Ballindalloch fishing commission trip in Bamboomouse blog. The Aberdeen Angus cattle are a core part of the estate.

14 May 2009

Inverness Town House - Victorian public architecture

The students were discussing the over-the-top nature of Vict­or­ian public ar­chitecture. What we needed was an architectural ex­ample where Vic­torian optimism and confidence combined with pow­erful historical symbolism.

The baronial style was a C19th revival of Scottish architecture tak­ing its inspiration from older, historical buildings. Although the revived style was largely used for private country houses, Scottish architects (or perhaps their clients) liked to incorporate crenel­l­ations, turreted bartisans, oriels and hewn stone in public buildings as well.

Inverness Town House, on the corner of Castle Street and High Sts, was built between 1878-82 by the architects Matthews and Lawrie. This building replaced the Old Town House, which was built in 1708 as the Inverness home of a noble family, became the Burgh Town House in 1716 and was demolished in 1878.

The current two storeyed building was said to be designed in a Flem­ish baronial style, apparently a larger version of Sir George Gilbert Scott's Albert Institute in Dundee. But I would call it Victorian Gothic with a few Second Empire elements. The Vic­torian Gothic el­ements are: steeply pitched roofs; pinnacles, stone masonry, lancets (narrow openings), bar tracery and crenellat­ions. The Second Empire elements are: dormer windows, high mansard roof and iron cresting.
Inverness Town House

Wherever in Inverness a person stands, he/she immediately notices the slender towers and turrets corbelled out at the corners and over the from door, slate roof, pierced parapet, fenestration and decorative bartisans ie over-hanging, wall-mounted turrets projecting from the walls of medieval fortifications. Ornate cast-iron lamp poles, which look lovely but don’t suit the building, stand on each side of the front entrance.
Front entrance

The interior is impressive, with 13 very grand chandeliers. There is an imposing staircase rising from the entrance to reach the most important rooms. The Town Hall, which was meant for the public, is panelled with painted ceiling and stained glass windows. The Council Chamber is wood-panelled and features fine stained-glass windows, three of which were designed and installed to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Some of the portraits displayed in the Town House include provosts who worked in Inverness as far back as the C17th.

Council chamber

The Town House was the home of Inverness Town Council until the 1960s. Since then it has been used only civic functions and musical performances. Now I must examine the Melbourne Town Hall, completed in the same decade as Inverness’ Town House.

11 May 2009

Joseph Duveen, art dealer extraordinaire

Joseph Duveen (1869-1947) was born in 1869 in Hull in Yorkshire, the eldest son of Dutchman Joel Duveen. With brother Henry, Joel had founded a busi­ness dealing with paintings and porcelain. On the death of his father in 1908, Joseph took control of the company.

Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) left Lithuania and eventually ended up near Florence. He was regarded as the primary authority in the world on Renaissance art. Joseph Duveen lov­ed pictures and knew a lot about British art, but was not an acad­emic. Ber­enson was not a smart busi­nessman, but he had a taste for a very exp­ensive lifestyle. So it was sens­ible that the two men should get together in a partner­ship.

Ber­enson found and authenticated pict­ures for Duveen and Duveen paid him a share of his firm’s profits. Duveen used Beren­s­on's credibility to sell pictures to the wealthiest collec­tors, especially people who had formerly worked with Berenson eg J Pierpont Morgan and Joseph Wid­ener. Ber­enson contributed to the first is­s­ue of Art in America 1913, which Duveen funded to educate Americans in European art.

Duveen was a skilled entrepreneur, an impass-ioned man who really did love art. A great many of his clients had come from nothing and made great fortunes. Duveen met them when they were in their spending mode, in their efforts to raise themselves up, to manifest that sense of nobility that surged in many families, flush with money for the first time. Joseph Duveen made his fortune by buying works of art from dec­l­ining European aristocrats and selling them to the million­aires of the USA. He attracted or went after the biggest of the big rich Am­er­ican art collectors in the early C20th. Otto Kahn, Jules Bache, Andrew Mellon, Henry & Arabella Huntington, William Randolph Hearst, Samuel H Kress, John D Rock­efeller Jr, Anna Dodge, P.A.B Widener, Benjamin Altman, Marj­orie Meriwether Post, JP Morgan, Isab­ella Stewart Gardner, and Henry Clay Frick were frequent buyers at Duveen’s galleries.

Turner, View of Venice: Ducal Palace 1841

Henry Clay Frick was older than Duveen, a Pitts-burgh resident who had already made a huge fortune. He was not highly cultured al­though he developed an interest in art. By the time he was rich, in the 1880s, he was buying art but not with much taste or confidence. Frick moved to New York and rented the Vand­erbilt Mans­ion at 640 Fifth Ave where WH Vanderbilt had his huge art gallery. Occasionally he bought something through Duveen but for years Frick bought most of his works of art from Rene Gimpel and Michael Knoedler, Duveen’s arch-rivals. But by 1915 as the mansion on Fifth Av and 70th St was going up, he needed lots of art objects to put in it.

JP Morgan had one of the greatest private art collections in America. Among the items Morgan had bought in London were 14 Jean-Honore Fragonard panels, bought from Thomas Agnew firm for a huge price. An opportunity came to Duveen in 1913 after Morgan’s death. Some thought his collection would go to the Met. But Morgan wanted them to dedicate a wing, named for him, in exchange for the collection. When this did not occur, he left the art to his heirs. Jack Morgan decided to sell much of his father’s collection, but first there was a large exhibition of Morgan art loaned to the Met. Then the panels were removed from the Prince’s Gate room, and shipped to New York. Frick bought the panels and installed them. Duveen also bought 1400 pieces of porcelain art from the JP Morgan estate in 1919, for a huge price. This collection also went to Frick.

Duveen made his own luck. He bought Turn­er’s View of Venice: Ducal Palace from a Br­it­ish col­l­­ector in 1925, without having a client in mind. He sold it to Mrs Elizabeth Severance Allen Prentiss later that same year!

Giorgione, Adoration of the Shepherds c1500

Duveen had a great relationship with Henry Huntington. Duveen offered Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie 1794 to Mellon, but at that stage he was secretary of the treasury and did not want to be known publicity as spending as much money as Pinkie cost. So Duveen then offered the painting to Huntington and was accepted. Mellon later wanted Pinkie, but Huntington refused to give up the painting.

Duveen managed the crisis in the art market that followed the Great Depression in 1929. There were some art objects that he sold 2-3 times. He sold Remb­randt’s Aris­­totle Contemplating the Bust of Homer to Arabella Hun­tington in 1907. At her death, her son, who inherited the painting, sold it back to Duveen. The picture went to McCann-Erickson Adv­ertising firm, for $750,000. In the 1929 crash Alfred Erickson went to Duveen’s gallery; Joseph bought the painting back for $500,000. When times got better, Duveen sold the painting to Erickson again, for barely any profit.

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, 1770

Joseph Duveen was the adviser to Arabella Huntington on design and furnit­ure. Behrman said Henry and Arabella Huntington saw a rep­ro­d­uction of Blue Boy 1770 in 1921, during a transatlantic cruise with Duveen. Duveen went on to England, heading straight to the home of the Duke of Westminster, from whom he bought The Blue Boy, another Gains­bor­ough and a Reynolds for $800,000. He sold The Blue Boy to the Hunt­ingtons and they were utterly delighted.

Fin­ancier Andrew Mellon was treasury secretary to 3 successive USA presidents from 1921-32, as well as a collector. After Mellon was no longer treasury secretary, the USA government took him to court for tax evasion. Duveen spoke for Mellon in court and revealed Mellon’s plan to donate all his coll­ection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the construction of which he would also underwrite. Mellon was apparently as surprised as the judge.

The Duveen/Berenson relationship was never an easy one, nor was it known about in public. Anger between them finally peaked over Ador­ation of the Sheph­erds. Owned by Baron Allendale, Duv­een wished to sell it to his best and richest client of the moment, Andrew Mellon. To do so, and to obtain the price that he wished, he needed an att­rib­ution to young Venetian artist Giorgione. There is no dispute over the artistic value of Adoration of the Shepherds; just who paint­ed it. Berenson believed it was an early Titian and would not be moved by Duveen’s begging, thus severely lowering. Mellon had many Titians and did not want another one; he wanted only a Giorgione!

Meryle Secrest asked did Duveen deliberately and knowingly lie in order to boost prices? It’s possible that as a careful businessman he tended to exaggerate things and to ig­nore doubts, but he never lied. After all, Mellon and Frick were sharp businessmen who knew which way was up. They bought what Duveen sold them because they trust­ed him and trusted his prices. Kress always liked to bargain, but he too happily bought Duveen’s art treasures. Anne Goldgar, King’s College London, states that as with all art sellers, even the most respected engaged in practices that are now open to question. Any valuation of art was sub­jective and so the seller would always inflate the price.

Rembrandt, Aristotle Contemplating Bust of Homer 1653

Duveen DID create a change in the price of artwork and in the Amer­ic­an art world. But modern articles that suggest he faked Renaissance paintings to rip off naïve American millionaire coll­ect­ors are simply nasty and ahistoric. The Dictionary of Art Histor­ians called him aggressive and shady. The Daily Blague blog said in Duveen that he was a man of great culture, but was best underst­ood as a vir­us that found its window of opportunity. The Metropolitan Museum of Art itself, boasting the Bernard Altman collection that Duveen as­s­embled, would be a far poorer place without the legacy of Duveen’s opportun­ism. But I personally don’t think he was any more of an opport­un­ist than any other professional art dealer.

More of his treasures are in the USA (c1,000 items) today than in Britain. Still, Elginism blog wrote in Lord Duveen (dec 2004) that he made a huge con­t­rib­ution to the British art world in the C20th. Not only was he resp­on­sible for the funding of numerous galleries, but his methods of dealing in artworks largely defined the way that the art market oper­ates today. Joseph Duveen was actively involved in numerous art organisations and served as a trustee for the National Gallery, London; the Wallace Collection and the Imperial Gallery of Art Lond­on. He founded the British Art­ists Exhibitions Organisation for the encouragement of younger Brit­ish artists. He provided for extensions of London museums, such as the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate, Univ­ersity of London and the British Museum.

For his services to the art world and to philanthropy, Duveen he was knighted in 1919 and late he was made a Baron, in 1933. He was called Lord Duveen of Millbank, the area of London in which the Tate sits. He died in London in 1939.
Duveen Gallery British Museum, to display Elgin Marbles

The Chicago Blog said that it is no exaggeration to say that Duv­een was the driving force behind every important private art collection in the USA (see WSJ's pick for art collectors: Duveen). He dominated the market in old master paintings and European decorative arts from late 19th–mid C20th. His client­ele were large­ly US million­air­es who were then emerging as maj­or figures in the world art market. Duveen played an important role in selling robber barons on the notion that buying art was also buy­ing class. With Bernard Berenson’s aid, he expanded the market, especially for Renais­sance art.

Because of Duveen’s personal gifts to museums, his major American buyers eventually donated their own collections to American public museums. The works that Duveen shipped across the At­lantic remain the core collections of many of the USA's most famous museums. But more than that. "Without the central influence of Duveen and other art deal­ers, many American collectors would have left museums lots of Fr­ench salon paintings and Victoriana.

07 May 2009

Grace Cossington Smith: her early career

Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984) was born in Sydney to English par­ents. She began art classes in Dattilo Rubbo’s Sydney studio in 1910, alongside two other young artists who later became famous, Roland Wakelin and Roy de Maistre. Young ladies were al­lowed to study there two days a week, so she was fortunate at least to have access to any good training. Once they were living in the country, however, her access to classes was limited to when her father could accompany her. This overweening protection of unmarried daughters leads me to ask how her parents allowed her travel to Europe alone. We know she did attend the Winchester School of Art in Britain and an art academy in Stettin, Germany 1912-4.

Cossington Smith ret­urned to Sydney and resumed classes with Dattilo Rubbo in 1914. It isn’t surprising that her work reflected her somewhat const­ricted middle-class suburban life, devoted to art and depicting the environment about her. Her early career paintings were conc­ern­ed with form and colour.

The Sock Knitter 1915

Cossington Smith was rec­ognised for her contribution to the dev­el­op­ment of a mo­dernist idiom as early as 1915, just when war was domin­ating the lives of Austral­ian families. A painting of Grace’s sister doing war work, Sock Knitter 1915. Now this painting is thought of as a key picture in the modernist movement and makes me think of Henri Matisse’s colour. There were many post-Im­press­ionists in the world then, but it was Matisse who seemed to create colours that the Australians could best identify with.

Troops Marching 1917

The Old Paint blog managed to find a painting that I have never seen before: Grace Cossington Smith, Quaker Girl, 1915. Our fellow blogg­ers are better than the reference books I traditionally rely upon! Blue Mountains Knits blog was also useful on The Sock Knitter: Grace Cossington Smith.

Grace’s rather uneventful life was entirely de­v­oted to art, and covered important social issues that affec­t­ed Aus­t­ralia. She was essentially a reporter of cont­em­p­orary city life. Her urban im­ages were bustling, crowded and unmistakably of her time. Troops Marching 1917 ill­ust­rat­ed the growing and busy urb­an Austral­ian streetscape, and the horrible war. The viewer cannot see the sold­iers’ faces but the wives and mothers’ hankies and dresses stood out clearly.

In 1917 Australia held a referendum on conscrip-tion for WW1. The mot­ion was defeated, much to Grace’s disgust. While men were dying in Europe, she had no time for the men who remained at home. She was equally hard-nosed about workers going on strike. Her strong views were shown in this small but emot­ional image of a Strike. I have no idea if she was paint­ing an actual strike; wartime strikes were often in the news and emotions were running high.

However it was not until her work with Wakelin and de Maistre and the formation of the Cont­emporary Group in 1926 that the real ch­ar­ac­ter of Grace’s life work began to emerge. De Maistre's colour mus­ic work was never truly abstract; he always had a subject in HIS mind, whatever the viewer might have thought. After de Maistre organised her first show in 1926, Cossington Smith’s art sh­ared many of the same tech­niques as de Maistre's: criss-crossing lines that separated planes of discrete colours, in sequence. And her palette seemed similar to those of de Maistre and Wakel­in.

*The blog my art essays (Sept 2005) suggested that many of her paint­ings from this era were close to being in the style of con­temporary Sydney painters. I don’t know the other contemporary Sydney painters well, but I certainly agree that her pain­t­ings showed objects being broken down into forms based on their colours similar to Cezanne, and had a Cubist manipulation of some of the imagery.

East Rd Turramurra, c1926

Cossington Smith carefully planned the composition of the water col­our Eastern Rd Turramurra c1926. A prelimin­ary drawing was made in a sketchbook and a grid structure marked over the compos­ition. Colour notes were recorded on the page along side. For this water-col­our, she developed the drawing in detail in pencil, as guide for the precise placement of colour. This degree of prepar­at­ion was unusual.

Landscape at Pentacost, 1929

Cossington Smith looked for a spiritual aspect in her images eg Land­scape at Pentecost 1929. The hills in the farming district of Pentecost showed her skills in both design and colour, but they showed more: a view of the energetic countryside, filled with a road lead­ing off over the horizon. Before the Great Depression struck, the countryside seemed full of optimism.

She was a single woman who lived her much of her adult life in Syd­ney. As with many Sydney-siders, construction of the iconic Harb­our Bridge fascinated Grace eg Curve of the Bridge c1929. Even in this industrial and perhaps ugly building process, we can see the ar­t­ist’s use of col­our to display form and depth. If there was a certain emotional content as well, only the artist could say for sure.

Grace created many drawings and paintings based on the growing arch­itecture of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I can only guess why. An ind­iv­­idual artist could do nothing about the tragedy of World War One, except to depict images of heroism, sacrifice and loss. The Great Depression, potentially just as tragic, offered great symbols of hope and energy. The bridge was a symbol of modernity, growth, employment. The bridge was formally opened in March 1932.
Curve of the Bridge, 1929

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05 May 2009

Melbourne's Shrine and the Great Depression

Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, located in in Kings Domain along­side St Kilda Road, is one of our largest war memorials. The city did indeed need a monument built to the memory of those who served and died in World War I, but its timing and funding are as interesting as its purpose. In a serious recession, architectural and infrastructure projects can save workers from unemployment, and can create valuable and much needed facilities for the city.

Shrine, classical style

Designed by ex-servicemen architects, the Shrine was created in a classical style, as anybody who had seen the Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus or the Parthenon in Athens would realise.  Built in grey granite, the open and sombre sanctuary was to be the heart of the building with an ambulatory allowing visitors to circul­ate.


Authorblog noted that when the Shrine was built, the architects were helped by calculations relating to astro­nomy and mathematics. The Sanctuary contains the marble Stone of Remembrance, upon which is engraved the words "Greater love hath no man". The in­tricate design means that a ray of sunlight shines through an ap­ert­ure in the roof on Remembrance Day (exactly at 11 AM, on the 11th day of the 11th month, the moment when when all the guns fell silent), to illuminate the word "love". Beneath the Sanct­uary lies the Crypt, which contains a bronze statue of a father and son and panels listing every unit of the Australian Imperial Force.

Father and Son statue in the Crypt

There was already a proposal to build some sort of shrine at the end of WW1, but it took from 1918 until 1922 to set guidelines; to ann­ounce the competition to architects; to collect and analyse the 83 com­peting plans; and to declare a winner. Five years later Austral­ia’s most famous general, Sir John Monash, was still lobbying for govern­mental and public support for the Shrine. The foundation stone was laid on 11th November 1927, but disaster stuck. A world wide depress­ion led to mass unemployment and failed banks.

Although both the Victorian and Commonwealth governments gave funds, just over half of the cost of the Shrine was raised in a short time by public contributions, with Monash as chief fundraiser. Bowalley Road blog was particularly impressed with the funding. At a time when every penny was precious, Victoria’s impoverished citizens found the necessary money.

The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 had certainly slowed construction work. But soon the Depression actually assisted the Shrine's progress; large numbers of unemployed men were hired at barely sustenance wages to work on the project as a form of unemployment relief. Appropriately many of these were ex-servicemen.

After seven years, the Shrine was officially dedicated on 11th Nov 1934 by the Duke of Gloucester. 300,000 people, in a city of only 1 million people, gathered to watch the event. There was a commitment to those crowds that the shrine would always have an unimpeded and uninterrupted view from the city, and that the view would never be marred by buildings along St Kilda Road.

In Lest We Forget, Authorblog also talked about beautiful Legacy gardens that have since been created around the shrine, filled with bright red poppies. This was important both because poppies are the flowers of remembrance and because Melbourne is a garden city. And there is a Turkish pine tree, grown from a seed of the original Lone Pine from the battleground. For wonderful photos inside and out, see High Riser.

Unimpeded view of the shrine (centre) from the city (in the distance)

We've a serious recession in 2009. We need big infra-structure projects to save workers from unemployment.

03 May 2009

William Dobell and Helena Rubinstein

With the passing this week of Richard Pratt, Australia's greatest philanthropist, I was reminded of a lecture I once gave at his amazing home, Raheen. It was an analysis of their William Dobell portrait of Helena Rubinstein.

William Dobell (1899-1970) was born in Newcastle, was apprenticed to a local arch­itect in 1916 and later moved to Sydney as a draftsman for an ar­chitect­ural metalworker. In 1925 he enrolled in evening classes at Julian Ashton's School, as had George Lambert, Charles Conder and Elioth Gruner a generation earlier. Arthur Streeton’s art was intr­o­duced to Sydney audiences by the very same Ashton.

In 1929 Dobell won the Society of Artists' Travelling Scholarship and travelled to UK to study at the Slade School. He used the time well, travelling across Europe, and his work from this era already start­ed to have exaggerated emphasis on characteristic forms, espec­ially solemn, elongated faces.

Soutine, Woman Knitting 1924 

Expressionism was the use of distortion & exaggeration for emot­ion­al effect. It was used to raise subjective feeling above objec­tive obs­ervation, refl­ec­ting the state of mind of the art­ist rath­er than imag­es that con­formed to the external world. It is said he owed a direct debt to the witty Expr­es­s­ionism of Chaim Soutine eg Woman Knitting 1924.  I’d also add to Amedeo Modig­liani eg the double portrait of Jacques Lip­chitz and his wife Bertha 1916.

Modigliani, Lipshutz and Wife 1916 

After 2 years, Dobell returned to Australia, working, teaching and later becoming a war artist. The first large portrait I can find is The Cypriot 1940 and even at this early stage, Dobell was int­erested in every shade of his friend Aegus Gabrielides’ character. Some­times he exaggerated aspects of the sitter to make a point: the arms were longer, the fingers more tapered, the facial hairs dark­er than the preparatory sketches showed. Even the shirt str­ipes and folds coop­erated to make an artistic statement. I wonder if Dobell had seen El Greco’s portrait of Fray Hortensio Felix Par­avicino c1609. Both sitters looked dark, exotic, Greek.

Dobell, The Cypriot, 1940

Examine Inspiration: William Dobell who said that Like Otto Dix and George Grosz, Dobell ex­aggerated his subjects to the point where it be­came caricature and it seems that's what caused him a big problem with the Archibald. I would add that Dobell’s exaggerated body shapes and vigorous brush work were not just elements of expressionist tech­niques; he was also interested in satire. Aus­tral­ians have always admired a somewhat mocking outlook

It took a long time before he showed his work. His first solo ex­hibition, held in 1942, was called Margaret Preston and William Do­b­ell Loan Exhibition, AGNSW. Perhaps the delay was caus­ed by the con­tro­versy surr­ounding the portrait of Joshua Smith in 1943. Port­rait of the Artist Joshua Smith had been awarded the Archibald Prize, but it was contes­t­ed in 1944 by two unsuccessful artists. They brought a lawsuit ag­ainst Dobell and the Gallery's Board of Trust­ees on the grounds that the pain­t­ing was caricature and not a portrait. Dobell was unmarried and rumoured to be gay, which didn’t help his cause.

In any event, the award was upheld but the 2 year trial left Dob­ell emotionally devast­ated; he retreated to the countryside, to paint safe topics ie landscapes. Dobell may have been fragile but he con­tinued to win important prizes: his portraits of Margaret Olley 1948 and Dr EG MacMahon 1959 won the very prestigious Arch­ibald Prize.

Dobell, Dame Mary Gilmore, 1957

His style was able to adapt to suit the char­acter of his subject. If the character of his sitter was broad and generous, he painted broadly and generously. If the character was contained and inward looking, he used brush strokes that convey this fact. See his fine insightful portrait of the poet Dame Mary Gilmore 1957. It was an energised and witty work, but tough.

Helena Rubinstein (c1870-1965) was an astute businesswoman who had been born in Europe but who escaped a potentially insufferable marriage by fleeing to Australia in 1894. She sold skin care creams in rural Victoria, helping Australian women with their dried, wind burnt skin. Later she opened her first beauty salon in Eliz­abeth St Melbourne, with the help of wealthy, well connected friends. Rub­in­stein didn’t leave for London with £100,000 to invest until 1908.

Towards the end of her life she put her considerable assets, c$100m, into the Rubinstein Foundation, dedicated to preservat­ion and prom­ot­ion of the arts and into welfare. Dobell painted Rubinst­ein in 1957 when she was on a return visit to Australia. He was already a famous art­ist by this time, and she was an elderly and very famous cosmetics manuf­act­urer. Dobell must have enjoyed the commission because he did many versions of Rubinstein’s port­rait. This vers­ion was rich, bejewelled and monumental, even though the woman herself was quite slight. He perceived her alert and int­e­l­ligent character, and projected it with bold brushwork. She died in 1965 but her famous portrait still hangs proudly at Raheen.

Dobell, Helena Rubinstein, 1957

Read WILLIAM DOBELL re his 1957 works that were recognised as among his highest achievements. By then, he was able to pick and choose from many offers of commissions. He won his third Archibald prize in Jan 1960 for a port­rait of his surgeon EG MacMahon. That year he did the first of 4 portraits commissioned by Time magazine for cover illustrations. His career, and fame, were assured. Dobell went on to receive a Knighthood in 1966, then he died in 1970. He left his work to The Sir William Dob­ell Art Foundation.

Dobell’s broad, expressive brush strokes made his portraits elongated and distorted. They reflected a subjective view of the world and in Australia, they were un­ique. He was arguably Australia's most talented & successful portraitist.