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SEIZE THE DAY

AESTHETICISM AND EMPIRE

THE GROSVENOR GALLERY INTERCOLONIAL EXHIBITION IN MELBOURNE, 1887

Famously lampooned by Gilbert and Sullivan as the ‘greenery-yallery Grosvenor Gallery’, and more recently praised as ‘the most progressive exhibition space of the Victorian age’, London’s Grosvenor Gallery was established in 1877. While the focus of much scholarship on British Aestheticism, no one to date has investigated this remarkable institution’s ‘colonial offshoot’: the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition of 1887. This chapter examines this temporary exhibition’s history and impact upon artistic production and consumption in colonial Australia. It also explores its significance within the international ‘cultural’ network that developed throughout the British Empire during the late nineteenth century.

… in the formation of taste in this new country where art is so young and tentative, … every show of works [of art] must have a more or less strong influence in the making of that taste.

Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton.1

The important role played by touring exhibitions of ‘international art’2 in shaping the development of Australia’s visual culture has long been recognised, although scholarship has tended to focus on the twentieth century.3 More recently, the position of nineteenth-century Australian art within the wider context of the British Empire – including our country’s reception of ‘imperial’ art exhibitions – has begun to be investigated.4 For instance, Andrew Montana (2000) in his book, The Art Movement in Australia, emphasises that our understanding of ‘Aestheticism’5 during the late 1870s and 1880s – especially the craze for all things Japanese in art objects and decoration – needs to be placed in a broader perspective. The ‘Anglo-Japanese style’, he argues, was ‘one of the most popular reformist styles through which Britain made claims to an internationally recognisable design identity’ (12). The furniture and furnishings of the leading British art-architects, such as EW Godwin and Bruce Talbert, were prominently displayed in most of the great international exhibitions and inspired a host of imitators. More importantly, Montana proposes that the Anglo-Japanese style was ‘used by the British to strengthen its domestic and international markets’ (13). Thus, in colonial cities like Melbourne, ‘the Art movement was marketed to women not as being revolutionary and reforming, but as the high mark of British taste’ (19).

This chapter will explore some of the connotations surrounding the idea of ‘British taste’ during this 1880s period in Melbourne – not through the artistic interiors and accessories that have been the focus of so much recent study (Galbally 1980; Lane 1984; Lane and Serle 1990; Montana 2000; Lane 2005), but through the specific category of the ‘Fine Arts’.6 This was the general term frequently used to describe the paintings, watercolours and works of sculpture that were presented in various touring exhibitions in Melbourne at this time. In particular, this chapter will examine a single exhibition dedicated to British contemporary art, and especially the work of those artists usually associated with the term ‘Aestheticism’, which was presented in Melbourne in 1887 – namely, the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition.7

The exhibition’s title referred to London’s ‘Grosvenor Gallery’, which was one of the most famous art institutions of the late nineteenth century. Established in the heart of fashionable New Bond Street in 1877 by the aristocratic amateur artists, Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife, Blanche Lady Lindsay, this private gallery was the owners’ response to the entrenched conservatism of the Royal Academy. The Lindsays wanted to support those unconventional contemporary artists who were not receiving public attention or recognition – such as the so-called second generation of the Pre-Raphaelite movement led by Edward Burne-Jones. As Coutts Lindsay wrote at the time:

There are several thoughtful men in London whose ideas and method of embodying them are strange to us; but as I do not think strangeness, or even eccentricity of method, sufficient excuse for ignoring the works of men otherwise notable, I have built the Grosvenor Gallery that their pictures, and those of every other man I think worthy, may be fairly and honestly seen and judged.8

The Grosvenor Gallery gained immediate notoriety when it first opened its doors and this was partly in response to the grandeur of the building’s exterior and interior. Lindsay had created a genuine ‘Palace of Art’ in an ornate Italianate style, with painted ceilings, gilded columns, crimson silk damask walls and controlled lighting (Denney 1996, 17–32) (Figure 1). No expense was spared (indeed, it was estimated to have cost an astronomical £120,000 (Surtees 1993, 149)) to create the ideal aesthetic environment in which to display the carefully chosen works of art.

But the gallery’s celebrity was equally a result of the controversy that surrounded the contemporary artists whose work Lindsay deemed worthy of attention; artists who displayed what Lindsay described as ‘a certain common purpose and harmonious design’ (The Grosvenor Gallery Intercontinental Exhibition 1887, 6) or what, to twenty-first century eyes, might be described as a preference for ideal and poetic subjects. The artists invited to appear in the Grosvenor Gallery’s opening exhibition in 1877 proved to be influential figures in the British art world, who, nevertheless rarely exhibited at the Royal Academy. Chief among these were Edward Burne-Jones, George Frederic Watts, Albert Moore and James McNeill Whistler. The latter’s work Nocturne in black and gold: The falling rocket (1875) provoked a scathing review from the critic John Ruskin that resulted in the notorious Whistler-Ruskin trial.9 As Colleen Denney (1996, 1) has argued:

As a consequence, the trial escalated the dialogue about the complex relationship between artists and critics in England … Further, through the selection of artists and their worship of beauty in the form of fair women, as well as through Whistler’s philosophy of art-for-art’s-sake … the gallery became synonymous with the Aesthetic Movement during its early years.

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Figure 1. ‘The Grosvenor Gallery of Fine Art, New Bond Street’. Illustrated London News, 5 May 1877.
(Courtesy of State Library of Victoria)

The gallery quickly inspired cartoons by George du Maurier and led Gilbert and Sullivan to feature a ‘greenery-yallery Grosvenor Gallery foot in the grave young man’ in their comic-opera Patience, which lampooned the affectations of those ‘intense’ individuals who adopted the new religion of art.

Such was the fame of the Grosvenor Gallery that audiences as far away as Melbourne were soon familiar with its activities, not only from serious exhibition reviews in British and local art journals, but also from its caricaturing in the popular press. The colonists’ knowledge of the Grosvenor Gallery could be gleaned from a variety of sources, such as Whistler’s own pamphlet on the Whistler-Ruskin trial (a copy of which was presented to Melbourne’s Athenaeum Library in 1879);10 or from local theatrical performances of aesthetic spoofs, such as Frank Burnand’s The colonel and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, which were both staged in Melbourne in 1882 (Galbally 1980, 128).

This international reputation of the Grosvenor partly explains why the various Australian colonies’ Agents-General, when in London for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886, should have decided to approach Coutts Lindsay and request ‘an exhibition of a similar character to the Grosvenor Gallery [that] could be seen in their respective colonies’ (The Grosvenor Gallery Intercontinental Exhibition 1887, 11). As the catalogue accompanying the exhibition later explained: ‘it is earnestly hoped that Australian art and artists may receive as large a stimulus as resulted in the inauguration of the first Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition to British art and artists at home’ (The Grosvenor Gallery Intercontinental Exhibition 1887, 11).

Not all commentators, however, were enthusiastic. The commercial nature of the venture, in which a private gallery toured an exhibition of non-Australian works of art throughout the colonies, provoked hostility in some quarters. Prominent colonial identity, Dr LL Smith, ‘refused the Grosvenor the free use of [Melbourne’s] Exhibition Building, of which he was chairman of trustees, to sell English pictures’ (McQueen 1996, 184). However, the Government of Victoria gave the project its full backing to the unparalleled extent of granting the Grosvenor exemptions from all colonial import tariffs (including its pictures’ frames). Furthermore, it made available the recently completed south wing of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), in which to install the exhibition.11 This new display space included special fittings comparable to London’s Grosvenor itself, such as ‘electric light and gas’ and maroon-tinted walls, while the works were carefully hung ‘with the object of showing the picture[s] to the best advantage’.12 As one local critic observed: ‘At the outset the representatives of Sir Coutts Lindsay had, undoubtedly, to contend against a certain feeling of jealousy at what was held by some to be an unfair favouring of English artists at the expense of native art’.13

The question that naturally arises is why should British art in the form of the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition prompt such lavish official patronage locally? A partial answer can be gained, perhaps, if one turns to consider the opinions and influence of a particular colonial figure in Melbourne during the mid 1880s – the artistically minded and energetic wife of the Governor of Victoria, Elizabeth Lady Loch.14

In July 1884, Lady Loch – who had only just arrived in the colony – visited Melbourne’s ‘Picture Gallery and Art Schools’. A visit she later described at length in a letter sent home to her family:

Thursday morning [7 August 1884] I went … to the Museum & Picture Gallery & art schools - & a really nice agreeable gentleman took us round the pictures - & told us how they had obtained each one - & Mr Ruskin and Mr Herbert have helped select for them in England - & really many of the pictures are very fine ones … & I thought the average work in the schools very high & full of genius which made it very interesting – they are very anxious to have an Annual Exhib: of Pictures & wd like very much to know if artists wd send. Teesy [Theresa Earle, Lady Loch’s sister15] might try & find out what the feeling is about the risk – there wd have to be a committee in England to select – Sir George Verdon [President of the Trustees of the NGV] thinks there are plenty of people here ready to buy pictures, but he thinks they wd only go by the names & very few wd risk buying an unknown name merely for the merit of the picture, so it is rather despairing – they have no specimen of any of the Pre Raffaelite school - & I suppose no one is sufficiently educated to allow themselves to like them – when everywhere the most flowery bad architecture prevails & the favourite colours are gros blue, equally crude green & magenta – even flowers cannot look well with such a mixture so how could pictures! (Lady Loch quoted in Hancock 2005, 68).

Significantly, Lady Loch’s dissatisfaction with artistic standards in the colonies was not limited to the local productions but extended to the quality of the British and European art lent to Australia. In a letter home of July–August 1887, she writes of her disappointment with the pictures in Adelaide’s Jubilee International Exhibition – ‘so few really good’ – and expresses the hope that works of higher quality will be sent from Britain to Melbourne for the forthcoming Centennial Exhibition in 1888. As she stated frankly and with some passion:

It is provoking to think how much has been sent out here because it will not do in Europe whereas I want the taste improved here so much – If any of you can forward good things being sent out here for the Melbne Exhib: next year, you will do as good a work for the Colonies as you can do – as all art, decoration, colouring, architecture, china, glass [,] furniture etc: is of the worst style in England 20–30 years ago – so you can imagine how bad it is – and any examples of really refined taste wd be an immense help … I appeal to you to bestir y.selves & help me – as the pictures that are now chosen simply do nothing for us - & much of those sent out to Adelaide are so tame with no genius (except the 2 Watts 1 Leighton & a Holman Hunt of the P&O Steamer) or fire & it makes them satisfied with their own pictures which I don’t want them to be … Excuse this lengthy appeal, one does so long to help the taste which is so bad … ’.16

It is not surprising in light of these strong opinions to find that Lady Loch quickly ‘assumed for her special mission the encouragement of culture in the colony, and endeavoured to leaven with a higher ideal in music and in art the somewhat commonplace tastes … [of] a self-made colony’ (Sutherland 1888, vol. 1, 486–487). Alongside her interest in the public art collection and art school, Lady Loch nurtured local artists by visiting studios, sitting for her portrait (by painters Robert Dowling, Carl Kahler, the photographers Johnstone O’Shannessy & Co., and others) (Plate 1) and even commenced painting lessons herself under the auspices of Madame Mouchette, the fashionable French artist and teacher (Hancock 2001, 170–171; Astbury 1989, 31). In particular, she and her husband, Sir Henry, actively supported the exhibition of modern British art in Victoria, which they (and others in the colonial establishment) identified as the best method of improving the quality of the local productions.17

images

Plate 1 Johnstone, O’Shannessy & Co. photographer. Photographic portrait of Lady Loch, c. 1888. Photograph: opalotype visible oval image, 22.8 x 16.5 cm, in red plush frame, 44 x 38 cm.
(Courtesy of State Library of Victoria)

As Caroline Jordan (2005) has shown in her study of the leading colonial art dealer, Fletcher’s of Collins Street, the Lochs’ strong promotion of British art coincided with the mid 1880s ‘boom’ period in the colony of Victoria when many British (and foreign) art dealers and even British artist societies were eager to capitalise on the business opportunities offered by Marvellous Melbourne. The first British artists’ organisation to really take advantage of these dual circumstances – boom economy and Vice-Regal backing – was the self-styled Anglo-Australian Society of Artists. A commercial venture, its ranks were drawn predominantly from the Society of British Arts, including that latter organisation’s soon-to-be President James McNeill Whistler and his friends Australian-born Mortimer Menpes and Australian-connected Thomas Gotch18 (Jordan 2005, 83; McQueen 1996, 151–152; Menpes 1905, 105–112). Whistler’s small oil painting, Note in blue and green, was the leading work of the new Anglo-Australian Society’s exhibition in Melbourne in 188519 (Young et al 1980, 152). This event was presented at Fletcher’s Gallery and on the cover of the catalogue of the ‘first annual exhibition’ it was proudly proclaimed to be: ‘Under the patronage of his Excellency the Governor and Lady Loch’. But while the display lived up to Lady Loch’s wish for ‘greater refinement’, it proved less successful financially with Whistler’s painting in particular provoking puzzlement and hostility in the press20 (McQueen 1996, 151–152).

One problem with the exhibition could also have been the relatively minor scale and impressionistic character of the works. While very progressive in taste, they were not the examples of ‘High Art’ that many were seeking. As the local artist, Robert Dowling, declared at this time, ‘art students in Melbourne have but little to see in the way of really high-class paintings in figure or watercolour’.21 This call for major figurative and landscape works was certainly met by the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition.22 As was quickly recognised at the time, Coutts Lindsay sent to Melbourne (under the auspices of Lord Buckinghamshire23) a comprehensive overview of current British art.24 In fact, an analysis of the works in this exhibition indicates that a modern account of the exhibition by Humphrey McQueen – in which he rather dismissively locates it within a wider discussion on ‘the dumping of British art on Victoria’ – is by no means an accurate assessment of the venture. McQueen places great emphasis upon the few negative reviews in Table Talk and the Bulletin, which clearly reflect those magazines’ strongly protectionist, pro-local art stance, but does not convey a complete sense of the exhibition’s predominantly positive reception (McQueen 1996, 185). A detailed examination of the exhibition’s contents soon discredits Table Talk’s claim that the Grosvenor pictures were simply ‘rubbish’ and ‘meretricious daubs’, and valuable only as a lesson for the Victorian art student of what to avoid!25

The Grosvenor Gallery’s first and only Intercolonial Exhibition comprised 158 paintings that had been contributed by 102 artists, many of whom were the gallery’s most famous public figures. For example, GF Watts, ‘the foremost British artist in the 1880s’, was represented by two of his great poetic-symbolic canvases, Love and life (c. 1885) and Love and death (c. 1887)26 (Plate 2). The latter was one of his best known and most original works – the first version of which having been shown at the notorious opening of London Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 (Bryant 1997, 166–168).27 Lindsay was perhaps deliberately ‘restaging’ this celebrated milestone in British contemporary art for the benefit of Melbourne’s artists and art lovers. The NGV went on to buy Love and death for 800 guineas – the highest price in the show.28 Watts’s career was also represented by three portraits, Lord Tennyson (1857) that again was purchased by the NGV, Henry Taylor (c. 1868–70) and Lord Dufferin (1881).29 These portraits of eminent British dignitaries had been produced as part of Watts’s famous ‘Hall of Fame’ series, which he had commenced donating to the National Portrait Gallery in 1883 (Perry 2004, 121–133). Some sense of the status of these pictures in the Melbourne exhibition can be judged from the fact that Love and death, Love and life and 14 of the ‘Hall of Fame’ portraits had made up the centrepiece of the Watts’s display at the Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition earlier that same year of 1887 (Trodd and Brown 2004, fig. 14; Bryant 1996, 128).

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Plate 2 George Frederick Watts, Love and death, c. 1887. Oil on canvas, 114.3 x 57.3 cm.
(Courtesy of National Gallery of Victoria)

In contrast, another of the Grosvenor’s principal mainstays, Edward Burne-Jones, was only represented by one picture in the Melbourne exhibition, his The depths of the sea (1886).30 This novel ‘pictorial fantasy’ (in terms of both subject and composition) was an important one in that artist’s career, having been exhibited at the Royal Academy the preceding year – the only time Burne-Jones ever showed there (Wildman and Christian 1998, 264–266). Many colonial critics employed Burne-Jones’ picture as something of a benchmark against which they compared other works in the exhibition. For instance, they noted the similarities between The depths of the sea and the ‘ideal subjects’ and elongated compositions of WB Richmond’s two contributions: Sleep and death carrying the body of Sarpedon into Lycia (1875–76) and The release of Prometheus by Hercules (1882).31 Richmond was the Slade Professor at Oxford at the time of Melbourne’s exhibition and the anatomical accuracy of his figures was duly noted. Richmond’s works were not the only heroic male nudes in the exhibition; indeed the considerable number present, such as the large-scale Maenads by John Collier (c. 1885)32 and Solomon’s Ajax and Cassandra (1886)33 (Plate 3), directly reflected the rising popularity of this subject in London’s progressive art circles of the 1870s and 1880s (Smith 1996, 173–185). Interestingly, Richmond’s Prometheus also gained attention because it was temporarily hung in the space destined for Holman Hunt’s Triumph of the innocents (1883–84) – a major religious work that had been expected to form part of the exhibition, but ultimately failed to arrive in Melbourne. Hunt’s proposed inclusion in the Intercolonial Exhibition catalogue, if never in fact realised, nonetheless underlined the Grosvenor Gallery’s longstanding association with Pre-Raphaelitism as a movement, not only in its later ‘aesthetic’ incarnation, but also as represented by the original ‘brotherhood’ (Casteras 1996, 79–81).

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Plate 3 Solomon J Solomon, Ajax and Cassandra, 1886. Oil on canvas, 335.3 x 152.4 cm.
(Courtesy of Ballarat Fine Art Gallery)

Another artist in the Melbourne exhibition whose regular inclusion on the walls of the Grosvenor Gallery contributed to its reputation for promoting ‘Pre-Raphaelitism’ was Mrs De Morgan (Evelyn Pickering). Her presence reflected the Grosvenor’s preference for ideal and imaginative subjects as well as its management’s, and in particular Lady Lindsay’s, sympathy for women artists (Denney 1996, 4). Evelyn De Morgan was represented at Melbourne by the ‘dramatically intense’ composition, By the waters of Babylon (1882), one of the most ambitious of her early biblical paintings.34 It was admired by the Argus for its fine qualities and workmanship, with the reviewer carefully identifying the artist as an ‘earnest disciple of the Pre-Raphaelite School’.35

Evelyn de Morgan was one of 10 women artists exhibiting at the Melbourne Grosvenor exhibition. In fact, almost one-tenth of the total number of artists contributing were women, and many were among the most renowned in British art circles – in part because the Grosvenor had proved a crucial showcase for their talents (Casteras 1996, 86–87). For instance, Dorothy Tennant (later Lady Stanley36) contributed two small pictures, Dawn (c. 1885) and Thoe (c. 1886) that reflected her penchant for mythical figures rendered in a consciously naive manner (Smith 2001, 146).37 Another famous female disciple of the Pre-Raphaelite School (who had also benefited from her affiliation with the Grosvenor) was Marie Spartali Stillman (Elliot 2006). The picture she sent to Melbourne, Love’s messenger (c. 1885) (Plate 4), was well received, its old-world charm reinforced by the use of archaic ‘Pre-Raffaelitte methods’ like tempera and gold paint.38

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Plate 4 Marie Spartali Stillman, Love’s messenger, c. 1885. Watercolour, tempera and gold paint on paper, 81.3 x 64.1 cm.
(Courtesy of Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R Bancroft Memorial)

Of the other women artists exhibiting at Melbourne, not all espoused the Pre-Raphaelite-aesthetic manner.39 The work of the prominent society portraitist, Mrs Louise Jopling, for instance, was more in the style of John Millais or Whistler, as evinced by the title of her painting Purple and Rose (which was in fact a portrait of the actress Miss Norrey).40 Similarly, Clara Montalba sent one of her popular, high-keyed Venetian scenes (A Venetian girl) while her sister Ellen was represented by a view of Amsterdam in a more conventional landscape mode.41

As these artists reveal, not all the works in Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition were representative of ‘greenery-yallery’ aestheticism. Indeed, one could argue that artists of this ilk – like Walter Crane and John Strudwick, whose Europa and Circe and Scylla respectively depicted ‘a medieval rendering of a classical subject’42 – were somewhat in the minority. During the 1880s, Coutts Lindsay had come to recognise the commercial reality of exhibiting a ‘broad church in contemporary art’, and had accordingly augmented his regular ‘stars’ (like Burne-Jones, Watts et al.) with increasingly large numbers of landscapes and portraits of a more mildly progressive character (McConkey 1996, 129–134). Thus, alongside the ‘poetical’ school at Melbourne appeared landscape paintings of more ‘idyllic academicism’ by Giovanni Costa and Ernest Waterlow, side by side with the more expressively handled ‘rustic naturalism’ of budding plein-air artists like the French-trained Anglo-American, Mark Fisher.43

In the same year that Fisher appeared in the Melbourne exhibition, he began showing with the New English Art Club. Others belonging to that recently established institution who also featured in the exhibition included the young Scot, John Robertson Reid, and Henry Herbert La Thangue, whose major work, The runaway (1886), was shown at the London and Melbourne Grosvenor exhibitions in 1887.44 The similarly avant-garde ‘Newlyn School’ was represented in Melbourne by a painting by Henry Scott Tuke, whose distinctive plein-air handling and trademark subject matter of nude boys bathing appears not to have disturbed the local audience in the least45 (Smith 2001, 268–271).

In view of the remarkable array of British contemporary art gathered together for the intercolonial tour, it is a telling indication of Melbourne’s conservative taste that none of the paintings of idyllic or rustic naturalism was acquired for a public collection. Instead, two landscapes by the Scot, Keeley Halswelle, were purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria for £1000, one a grandly romantic example of Highlandism, entitled The heart of the Coolins, Isle of Skye (1885) amidst great public acclaim.46 In all, the Melbourne gallery proved more ambitious in its figurative purchases – of Watts’s Love and death and Portrait of Tennyson – than in its selection of landscapes.47

Victorian regional galleries also acquired works at the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition. Lady Loch must have been gratified when the new Ballarat Gallery spent almost half of its £2000 government grant on major British pictures, including Solomon J Solomon’s Ajax and Cassandra (1886) for £500,48 while Bendigo acquired two, including Waterlow’s Newlynesque landscape, Gathering fuel, Cornish Coast (1885). Three years later, in 1890, Bendigo again paid a large sum (800 guineas) for the immensely popular Too late (1884–86) by Herbert Schmalz.49 Such was the admiration for Schmalz’s work at the time of the Grosvenor exhibition that the local artist, Italian-born Ugo Catani organised a tableau vivant based on the composition, and also painted a copy of the picture using (to quote Table Talk’s Stella):

ladies and gentlemen well-known in Melbourne fashionable circles. Two lovely girls (daughters of a well-known Collins Street medico) and a gentleman well known in amateur dramatic circles as being an actor of no mean order (Clark 1993, 12).50

Ultimately, the success of the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition is difficult to evaluate. Attendances were very high – a total of 33,000 paying viewers in 10 weeks – with Lady Loch writing of the opening: ‘it was quite exciting to see the numbers of people in the Private View & the interest shown – it was quite as full in proportion to size as a private view in London.’51 But while the door fees covered expenses, only 28 of the 158 paintings were sold, for a total of under £5000.52 While the public institutions were willing to purchase some major figurative works (though not of the extreme aesthetic type), it was left to Melbourne’s private collectors to snap up a small number of the more avant-garde landscapes – such as works by the New English Art Club members, WJ Laidlay, JL Thomson and Adrian Stokes; or the Paris-trained Glasgow School painter, Alfred East.53 The local artists’ fears of having their market flooded with British imports were thus proved unfounded. However, the opinion voiced in certain quarters – that Australian artists still lagged behind their British contemporaries and had much to learn – was perhaps a more insidious and damaging perception.54 It is significant that when Ada Cambridge’s novella, The Perversity of Human Nature, was published in December 1887 (during the last month of the Intercolonial Grosvenor Exhibition), she had her Australian hero confess that:

… he went to England with the conviction that he knew as much as the old country could teach him and a little more – except on one point. He was prepared to own, and subsequently did own, that England could furnish more and better pictures than all he had seen in Australia. … So he went to the Grosvenor Gallery (Cambridge 1887, 2).

Nevertheless, several positive outcomes for local artists could be seen to emerge from the Grosvenor exhibition’s sojourn in Melbourne. A greater consciousness of the appropriate display and promotion of art would lead, in no short time, to stylish local events like the ‘9 by 5 Impression Exhibition’ in 1889, with its artistic hang, aesthetic furnishings and elegant catalogue ‘printed in “greenery-yallery” ink’ (Lane 2007c, 162). The Grosvenor exhibition had made art fashionable – or as the Australian Artists Association ‘sincerely trusted’:

the exhibition would so impress the people of Australia with the importance of the cultivation of the knowledge of art that the way of the association in this colony would become considerably easier.55

The Grosvenor exhibition’s endorsement of the work of professional women artists may similarly have assisted in raising the status of their colonial sisters, who were still fighting against the slur of amateurism at this time. It was only in 1883, for instance, that women were admitted as ‘honorary members’ of Melbourne’s artistic Buonarotti Club, and not until two years later that the ban against female students attending the life classes at the National Gallery School was lifted.56

Other consequences were both practical and immediate. Following the outcry over the National Gallery providing accommodation for the Grosvenor pictures, in 1888 the government, in a gesture of appeasement, gave permission to the Victorian Artists Society to display their Autumn Exhibition in the National Gallery’s new wing – now appropriately christened ‘The Grosvenor Gallery’. This was not the only colonial art venue to borrow some reflected glory from the ultimate ‘art brand name’ of the day. When the Paterson brothers opened Melbourne’s first custom-designed artists’ residential studios in Collins Street in April 1888, they naturally titled their fashionable new building ‘Grosvenor Chambers’ (Bonyhady 1985, 18–19; Lane 2007b, 147–151; Taylor 2007, 13). And significantly, two of its earliest tenants were the local women artists, Clara Southern and Jane Sutherland, whose studio in Grosvenor Chambers was described in the press as being ‘fitted up so attractively and prettily that it is the cosiest of artistic works’ (Lane 2007a, 148).

In view of this far-ranging impact, it becomes more understandable why Alexander Sutherland (1888), in his Victoria and its Metropolis Past and Present, should judge the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition second only to the great International Exhibition of 1880, in having a ‘powerful influence in the education not only of the public taste, but also of the aims and ideals of our future artists’ (vol.1, 505).

Alongside the artistic response, from a political perspective, the Victorian Government must have been pleased that so many major works of modern British art had entered the colony’s public collections. Indeed, the strong state support and vice-regal patronage of the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition indicate to what extent the Aesthetic Movement in Australia had raised the standing and awareness of art as a contributor to social and economic gains. As a letter in Sir Henry Loch’s papers makes clear, however, this new recognition afforded the fine arts also coincided with anxieties about the increasing dislocation of ‘native born’ Australians from the mother country. In a letter from Victoria’s Chief Justice George Higinbotham to Lord Knutsford, dated May 1888, this leading colonial citizen stated in no uncertain terms that ‘the native born population of Australia’ was rapidly taking the place of the English born and was wanting in ‘sentimental attachment’ to England as the place of its birth. In place of this arose ‘an uneasy and suspicious dislike of England and her government’, with native Australians being totally ignorant of the true legal relations between the governments of Great Britain and the colonies. Higinbotham concluded that, as a result of this ignorance, there was a very inadequate estimate of the advantages enjoyed by the colonies in their present state, or as he phrases it: ‘as component parts of a powerful if united empire’.57

Placed against the background of Higinbotham’s forebodings, it becomes apparent that exhibitions of quality works of British art (even commercial ventures from private galleries) were perceived by the colonial establishment as an important means of reconnecting the local population’s sentimental attachment to Great Britain. Quite apart from the educational and economic benefits of the exhibition, British art reminded native Australians that they belonged to a wider Empire. Thus it is not surprising to find that in 1890, the title ‘Royal’ was granted to the newly reconstituted and expanded Anglo-Australian Society of Artists.58 As the 1890 catalogue makes clear, this honour was prompted by the belief that the Society was ‘destined to perform the important Anglo-Australian function of bringing the colonies into closer touch with British Art’.59 However, as this chapter has sought to convey, that grand imperial ambition had already been initiated three years earlier – with considerable flair if not great financial success – by the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition of 1887. As the exhibition’s Melbourne representative, the Earl of Buckinghamshire, declared at the time:

The Grosvenor Gallery collection has been sent out with the idea of adding an additional link to that scheme of Imperial federation … There was no doubt that art had a most sympathetic influence in binding people together, and if by the collection … such sympathy was increased he should feel himself amply rewarded.60

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The author would like to thank Dr Ruth Brimacombe, Dr Marguerite Hancock, Angela Hesson, Dr Caroline Jordan and Eliza Roberts for their generous assistance with the research and editing of this text.

ENDNOTES

1    Letter to the Argus, 3 September 1889: 7.

2    The term ‘international art’ has been used in recent times in Australia to designate art from Europe, America and Asia. For example, the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection is divided between two galleries designated ‘Australia’ and ‘International’.

3    Lindsay 1987; Chanin and Miller 2005; McCulloch et al 2006, 1066–1080.

4    Free 1975; Palmer 1996, 131–136, 209–213, 230–232; Jordan 2005; Barringer et al 2007.

5    ‘Aestheticism’ is a notoriously difficult term to pin down. Elizabeth Prettejohn (1999) observes: ‘In Victorian writings … we find a variety of terms for naming the trends in the arts after the Pre-Raphaelites: ‘beauty without realism’, ‘art for art’s sake’, ‘Aestheticism’, ‘Aesthetic Movement’; ‘Art for art’s sake was strongly associated with experimentalism in the ‘high’ arts of painting and poetry in the 1860s … ‘Aesthetic Movement’, by contrast, became associated with the decorative arts, interior design and fashion’ (4). In Australia, Terence Lane (Lane and Serle 1990) emphasises: ‘the Aesthetic Movement, the Queen Anne style, the Arts and Crafts Movement and Artistic decoration are best thought of as a series of overlapping circles, with common but not synonymous adherents and preoccupations … The Aesthetic Movement, which had links with the earlier Pre-Raphaelite Movement, was the first of these movements to seriously affect what happened in Australian interiors’ (36).

6    For the broader subject of British art in Australian collections, see Free 1975; Tomory and Kirker 1997; Trumble 2001; Radford 2005.

7    The Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition was intended initially to be presented at a range of colonial venues including Melbourne, New South Wales, South Australia, New Zealand and Canada (Argus, 26 September 1887: 6).

8    Coutts Lindsay (Art Journal 1877: 244) quoted in Newall 1995: 13.

9    For further details of this famous trial and its implications, see Whistler 1892, 25–34; Merrill 1992.

10    A copy of Whistler’s pamphlet Whistler v. Ruskin: Art and Art Critics [n.d.] with the inscription: ‘Presented to the Library of the Athenaeum Club by John Mansfield 1879’ is in the collection of the State Library of Victoria (hereafter SLV). See also The Vagabond, ‘The Grosvenor Gallery’, Age, 30 September 1887: 5.

11    Argus, 26 September 1887: 6; Age, 30 September 1887: 5.

12    Age, 26 October 1887, n.p.; Argus, [October?] 1887, n.p.; Herald, [October?] 1887, n.p., in Newspaper cuttings relating to the Public Library, Museum and National Gallery, microfilm, [1987], LTM92, SLV, 86, 88; McQueen 1996: 184.

13    Argus, 3 December 1887: 11.

14    For Lady Loch’s career in colonial Victoria during the years 1884–89, see Hancock 2001: 155–186.

15    Hancock (2005) notes that Theresa Earle ‘had a wide circle of artistic and intellectual friends including the painters Burne-Jones and GF Watts’ (68, 77).

16    Diary-Letter by Elizabeth Lady Loch, July–August 1887; MS GD 268/870, Loch Papers, Manuscripts Collection, National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh (hereafter NAS). The author would like to thank Marguerite Hancock for making available her microfilm copies of Lady Loch’s diary-letters and her meticulous transcriptions of the diary-letters for 1884.

17    Lady Loch was prepared to petition the President of the Royal Academy, Lord Leighton, for assistance. His biography records: ‘Lady Loch tells of his invaluable help in the efforts she and her husband made to encourage art, while the late Lord Loch was governor … of Victoria’ (Barrington 1906, 3).

18    Gotch had visited Australia in 1883 and 1884; his cousin was the prominent Melbourne businessman, JS Gotch (Gott and Benson 2003, 98).

19    First Annual Exhibition of the Anglo-Australian Society of Artists, exhibition catalogue, 87 Collins-Street East, Melbourne [1885], A704 AR75 (vol. 19), SLV. Whistler’s work is listed as: ‘no. 1: J McNeill Whistler SBA, A Note in Blue and Green’.

20    See for example James Smith’s review in the Argus, 26 October 1885: ‘The place of honour in it has been assigned to “A Note in Blue and in Green”, but the note is written in some cryptic character, which is unintelligible to the uninitiated’ (7).

21    R Dowling, letter to the Argus, December 1885 (quoted in Jordan 2005, 88).

22    The Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition. Exhibition catalogue. Melbourne. [1887]. (hereafter GGIE [1887]).

23    Lord Lindsay’s representative in Australia, Lord Buckinghamshire, was described by Lady Loch as ‘a nice quiet giant but not very interesting & evidently knows nothing about art or pictures tho’ he has escorted the Grosvenor collection & as he found many supposed him to be an artist he was in such a fright till he had got out he really knew nothing about it’. Diary-Letter by Elizabeth Lady Loch, October 1887; MS GD 268/871, Loch Papers, NAS.

24    As the Daily Telegraph’s (26 October 1887) critic observed: ‘the exhibition is of such a nature that it rivals our own National Gallery’ (6).

25    Table Talk, 18 November 1887: 3; Table Talk, 13 January 1888: 8. The Bulletin (26 May 1888) was even more scathing: ‘Colonial markets are glutted with shoddy goods, and now that some few wealthy Australians are beginning to show a desire for aesthetic culture, the pictorial spawn of [the] Grosvenor Gallery is being furbished up and re-varnished for the Australian art-market’ (5).

26    GGIE [1887] 35: cat. nos. 138, 139. Argus, 26 October 1887: 5; Bryant 1996: 28; Smith 2001: 224.

27    The Age (22 October 1887) critic declared of Love and death: ‘as far as its poetical qualities are concerned, [it is] the greatest of all his works’ in Newspaper cuttings relating to the Public Library, Museum and National Gallery, SLV, 85.

28    Argus, [n.d.] in Newspaper cuttings relating to the Public Library, Museum and National Gallery, 89.

29    GGIE [1887], 35, cat. nos. 142, 142A, 143 respectively. The portrait of Tennyson was purchased for 600 gns; see Argus, 1 February 1888; Argus, 28 July 1888; Age, 28 July 1888. This was the first of Watts’s numerous portraits of Tennyson (see Bryant 2004, 110). All three portraits elicited very positive reviews at the time of their exhibition in 1887. The Argus (26 October 1887) observed ‘They are all of them masterly works … but more especially the head of the Laureate … Mr Watts portrays character as well as features, believing that the face is “the window of the mind”, and the exhibition of these pictures promises to be valuable from an educational point of view’ (5).

30    GGIE [1887], 28: cat. no. 98, In the depths of the sea (sic), Age, 22 October 1887: 13; Argus, 26 October 1887: 5.

31    GGIE [1887], 27, 37: cat. no. 91, Sarpedon carried by night and sleep to his home in Lycia (sic); cat no. 155. Sarpedon had been shown at London’s Grosvenor Gallery in 1879 (see Wilton and Upstone 1997, 151–152). Prometheus was exhibited at the Grosvenor in 1882, where it was accused of ‘effeminacy of manner’, a charge frequently levelled at Burne-Jones’ male nudes (see Smith 1996, 182).

32    GGIE [1887], 25: cat no.78, A Rout of Bacchantes (sic).

33    GGIE [1887], 37: cat no. 152, Cassandra (sic).

34    GGIE [1887], 17: cat no. 21, By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept (sic). This work had been exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883. For details of the work and its contemporary reception see Yates 1996, 54–55; Marsh and Nunn 1997, 139–144.

35    Argus, 22 November 1887: 7.

36    The emergence of upper class and aristocratic artists, like Dorothy Tennant, had also been encouraged by the taste and friendships of the Lindsays. Part of the appeal of the Melbourne Intercolonial exhibition was its air of aristocratic exclusivity; the exhibition was accompanied on tour by the Earl of Buckinghamshire, while ‘titled’ artists included the HSH Count Gleichen, Hon. John Collier, Dorothy Tennant, Sir Arthur Clay, and Stuart Wortley (cousin of Lord Wharncliffe).

37    GGIE, [1887], 16, 19: cat. nos. 19, 39. The Age (26 October 1887) critic commended her ‘beautiful Dawn’ and the ‘charming miniature’ of Thoe (9).

38    GGIE, [1887], 35: cat. no. 143A. Age, 26 October 1887. This work was exhibited at London’s Grosvenor Gallery in 1885. For the Lindsays’ interest in ‘underrepresented [artistic] media’ see Denney 1996, 3.

39    Other women artists in the Melbourne exhibition included Mrs K Gardiner Hastings; Mrs C Kenneddy; Mrs Murch; Mrs Annie Swynnerton.

40    GGIE [1887], 33: cat. no. 133, Purple and Gold: A reminiscence of Miss Norrey’s, as she last appeared at the Court Theatre.

41    GGIE [1887], 31, 30: cat. nos. 119, 113.

42    Argus, 3 February 1888, in Newspaper cuttings relating to the Public Library, Museum and National Gallery.

43    GGIE [1887], 23: cat. no. 66, Giovanni Costa, The old garden, Naworth Castle; 25: cat. no. 77, The beautiful Ernesta of Lerici; 26: cat. no. 82, Old Kensington Palace; 36: cat. no. 145, Ernest A. Waterlow RWS Gathering fuel; 18: cat. no. 30, Mark Fisher RI In the Thames valley; 36: cat. no. 147, Landscape and cattle.

44    GGIE, [1887], 32: cat. no. 124, An ugly customer; 19: cat. no. 36, HH Lathangue (sic), The runaway; 26: cat. no. 83, Study of a head. The Age (22 October 1887) critic described La Thangue’s work approvingly as ‘a picture that commands and almost compels attention’ (13).

45    GGIE [1887], 18: cat. no. 32, The Bathers.

46    Argus, 3 December 1887; Argus, 9 January 1888: 5.

47    Interestingly, Lady Loch shared the lukewarm response to the landscapes as opposed to the figurative works, writing to her family: ‘I went this morning to see the Gros: Pictures, which are very well hung & lighted etc: but I fear I was rather disappointed as a whole – it seemed as if all the ordinary pictures had been chosen & except Burne-Jones and the Watts’ there don’t seem any genius pictures. I shd. like to see them buy for here Watts “Love and Death” and “Lord Dufferin’s Portrait”’. Diary-Letter by Elizabeth Lady Loch, October 1887; MS GD 268/871, Loch Papers, NAS.

48    Ballarat acquired Solomon’s Cassandra (£500); WH Bartlett’s Hesitation (£210); Buxton Knight’s April day (£115) and Arthur Lemon’s Evening (£80). I am grateful to Dr Caroline Jordan for making available her research on the Ballarat and Bendigo collections. See also Ballarat Star, 3 December 1887: 4; Caroline Jordan, ‘Buying in the boom: George Folingsby and Victoria’s nineteenth-century regional galleries’. Art and Australia (forthcoming).

49    Bendigo’s trustees paid £280 for the Waterlow and £150 for Edwin A Ward’s Mating. Jordan as above. See also Bendigo Art Gallery 2002.

50    Table Talk, 2 December 1887: 1. In the same issue of Table Talk (4) the identity of the sisters was revealed to be ‘the two pretty Misses Gray, daughters of Dr Gray, of Collins street, and Messrs. Reginald Verdon and Wright’.

51    Diary-Letter by Elizabeth Lady Loch, October 1887; MS GD 268/871, Loch Papers, NAS.

52    Argus, 9 January 1888: 5; Magazine of Art, March 1888: xxiv.

53    Argus, 9 January 1888: 5.

54    The critic for the Argus (3 December 1887: 11) noted that ‘we are separated by thousands of miles from the picturesque life of the older world, and this isolation will, unless there is some counteracting agency, undoubtedly produce monotony and provincialism in our art’.

55    Argus, 7 October 1887: 9.

56    Lindsay 2007: 226; Hammond 1993: 12.

57    Copy of Letter, Higinbotham to Lord Knutsford, dated 26 May 1888, MS GD 268/676, in correspondence of Sir Henry Loch, Loch Papers, Manuscripts Collection, NAS.

58    ‘Art in December’. Magazine of Art 1889: [n.p.].

59    Exhibition of British Art by the Royal Anglo-Australian Society of Artists, catalogue, 2nd edn, Melbourne, 1890: 8. SLV.

60    Argus, 7 October 1887: 9.

PRIMARY SOURCES

ARCHIVED COLLECTIONS

Copy of Letter, George Higinbotham to Lord Knutsford, 26 May 1888, MS GD 268/676, in Correspondence of Sir Henry Loch, Loch Papers, Manuscripts Collection, National Archives of Scotland (hereafter NAS), Edinburgh.

Diary-Letters by Elizabeth Lady Loch, July–August 1887; MS GD 268/870, October 1887; MS GD 268/871, Loch Papers, Manuscripts Collection, NAS.

Loch Papers, Manuscripts Collection, NAS.

CONTEMPORARY NEWSPAPERS

Age, 1887–1888.

Argus, 1887–1888.

Ballarat Star, 1887.

Magazine of Art, March 1888.

Table Talk, 1887–1888.

EXHIBITION PUBLICATIONS

Exhibition of British Art by the Royal Anglo-Australian Society of Artists, catalogue, 2nd edn, Melbourne, 1890. State Library of Victoria (hereafter SLV).

Exhibition Catalogue, First Annual Exhibition of the Anglo-Australian Society of Artists, 87 Collins Street East, Melbourne, [1885]. SLV.

The Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition. Sir Coutts Lindsay, Bart., Proprietor and Director. Represented in Australia by The Earl of Buckinghamshire. J Comyns Carr & EH Halle, Assistant Directors. JC Smith, Secretary, Melbourne, [1887]. SLV.

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Cite this chapter as: Inglis, Alison. 2008. ‘Aestheticism and empire: The Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne, 1887’. Seize the Day: Exhibitions, Australia and the World, edited by Darian-Smith, Kate; Gillespie, Richard; Jordan, Caroline; and Willis, Elizabeth. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 16.1–16.17.

© Copyright 2008 Alison Inglis
All rights reserved. Apart from any uses permitted by Australia’s Copyright Act 1968, no part of this book may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission of the copyright owners. The fact that this book is published online does not mean that any part of it can be reproduced without first obtaining written permission: copyright laws do still apply. Inquiries should be directed to the publisher, Monash University ePress: http://www.epress.monash.edu/contacts.html.

SEIZE THE DAY

   by Kate Darian-Smith, Richard Gillespie, Caroline Jordan, Elizabeth Willis