The Falk Album
The Falk Album contains over 1600 albumen prints of predominately theatrical sitters taken during the 1890s by H. Walter Barnett’s Falk Studios in Sydney. The album includes portraits of some 170 sitters, photographed in both casual dress and/or costume. Significant personalities include Sarah Bernhardt   , Robert Louis Stevenson   and J.C. Williamson    , as well as members of the London Gaiety Company and the Brough and Boucicault Comedy Company. Many of the performers were brought to Australia by J.C. Williamson Ltd, such as Mrs Brown Potter and Kyrle Bellew, Olga Nethersole and Charles Cartwright, along with noted proponents of ballet and comic opera and pantomime.
The leather and fabric covered album measures 49 cm (high) x 35 cm (wide) x 7cm (deep). It contains 187 pages (not including covers) of which 172 are photographs by the Falk Studios and 15 are items added by J.W. Hazlitt. The pages of Falk photographs typically comprise a grid of 9 images per sheet. These images are 10.8 cm x 16.5 cm cabinet size prints. While the majority of the prints are in very good condition, a small number have been defaced and some images removed. The pages are broadly arranged in alphabetical order by surname of the sitter, and many of the pages are numbered. Some of the pages in the sequence appear to have been removed, some completely, while others have been re-inserted in the wrong place.
It is not clear who assembled the original album. It may have been compiled by a collector or by the Falk Studios themselves for perusal and selection by the public. What is certain, is that by the 1910s, the album was in the hands of J.W. Hazlitt, a manager for J.C. Williamson Ltd in Sydney associated with the Royal, Criterion and Her Majesty’s theatres. Hazlitt was responsible for adding in the portrait of Oscar Asche on page 2, the silk programme on page 3, and the numerous signed photographs, many addressed to him, found on pages 176 to 188.
After Hazlitt’s death in 1943, it may be surmised that the album was entrusted to Frank Tait, the Melbourne-based general manager of JCW, as Frank S. [Samuel] Tait’s name is written in blue pencil on a label on the front cover along with the inscription (in gold): Theatrical and other Celebrities of Bygone Days. It is possible that the album remained with J.C. Williamson Ltd until the 1970s when the company was disbanded.
In 2014, the album was acquired by the current owner, having been gifted to him by a friend. This friend had in turn been gifted the album in the 1970s by an acquaintance who had rooms in a big old Edwardian house in Mary Street, St Kilda. It is not known if the album was found in the house or if he acquired it somehow while living in St Kilda.
This album is a rare survivor, not only as a record of the work of H. Walter Barnett’s Falk Studios, but for illustrating the vibrancy of the Australian theatre scene during the 1890s. Though the work of the Falk Studios is well represented in Australian collections, many of the images in this album will not be familiar.
The album has clearly been through many hands. Fortunately for us, its various custodians have recognised its value and it has been preserved. It is through the generosity of its current owner that Theatre Heritage Australia has been given the opportunity to make it available, through digitisation, to a wider audience. We hope to be able to discover more about the origins of the album and to explore the stories of the sitters within its pages.
Full list of sitters