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Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Enjoying the Scenery: When the Heidelberg School went backstage (Part 1)

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Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton knew how to make a good impression with theatre scenery, writes SIMON PLANT

IN OUR MIND’S EYE, we see them outdoors—standing under a blazing sun in front of an easel at Box Hill, Mentone or Eaglemont.

But around the time they were creating classic Heidelberg School paintings such as A Break Away!, A Bush Burial and Fire’s On, the three painters most commonly identified with Australian Impressionism found time to paint indoors ... at the Bijou Theatre.

Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton were engaged as ‘guest artists’ for a summer production of Much Ado About Nothing, presented by the Brough and Boucicault Comedy Company. And when they converged on the Bijou’s upstairs paint room, they were not asked to embellish backcloths with pictures of settlers and swaggies. Shakespeare’s merry comedy called for soldiers and sailors. So, Roberts, McCubbin and Streeton got to work: adding figures to theatre scenery painted by others.

Frustratingly, there are no extant images of the sets designed for the Bijou’s Much Ado. Theatre managers of the late nineteenth century regarded scenery as disposable. Big back cloths were habitually painted out when the canvas was required for the next production or discarded when they had deteriorated from use and travel.

We cannot even be sure when Roberts, McCubbin and Streeton were engaged—historians differ on the timing—but we know for certain the work was undertaken and completed. A newspaper listing for ‘Shakespeare’s Comedy’, Much Ado, is dated ‘Boxing Night, Saturday December 26th, 1891’ and credits ‘W.B. Spong’, ‘his assistant Hedley Churchward and son Edward Spong for ‘The Scenery’. A secondary line advises: ‘Figures Painted by Messrs Tom Roberts, Streeton and McCubbin’.

Why were they engaged ahead of others? Who issued the invitation? And what images did the trio paint? So many questions follow from the knowledge that three of our most significant artists were, for a time, moonlighting as theatre scene painters.

Roberts, McCubbin and Streeton first came together in the mid 1880s, chafing against art school tradition by painting Australian subjects in the outdoors and bonding as ‘Brother Smudgers’ at ‘camps’ on Melbourne’s suburban fringe. In August 1889, they were identified with a much discussed display of ‘modern’ art, The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition where small, spontaneous oil studies—or ‘impressions’—were painted on cigar box lids. Soon after, the trio broadened their vision with large subject pictures that spoke to growing nationalistic sentiment: Roberts with Shearing the Rams (1888-90), McCubbin with Down on his Luck (1889) and Streeton with ‘Still Glides the stream, and shall for ever glide’ (1890).

Roberts was depicting a masculine world of work on a sheep station, McCubbin the back breaking hardships of pioneering life, and Streeton the sun-streaked glories of the inland. Connecting them all was a desire to break free of Eurocentric views of the Antipodes, to capture the flickering light and stillness of Australia’s bush, and celebrate authentic aspects of an emerging national character: mateship, courage, hard work and resourcefulness.

As art historian Robert Hughes has observed: ‘The Heidelberg painters were basically disciples of “natural vision”: the unpretentious look at familiar things’.

Bark huts and bush breakfasts would seem to have little in common with theatre, a world of glitter, gaiety and calculated pretence. But in my research for this essay, it has become evident that scene painting was not just a nice little earner for Roberts, McCubbin and Streeton. Theatre mattered to each of them. They attended live shows, befriended theatre people, and were alert to the look of stage scenery. Even the way their paintings were constructed, especially those of the late 1880s and early 1890s, tended to align with aspects of theatre: from the ‘casting’ of real actresses as models to the precise direction of ‘scenes’, right down to costumes, props and lighting.

There are gaps in this story which refuse to be filled but by recounting the occasional scenic excursions these Heidelberg School artists made into theatre paint rooms, the memorable images they were making elsewhere acquire new layers of interest and it becomes possible to view Australia’s founding ‘Impressionists’ in a new light.

Fair Play

Eighteen months before Much Ado debuted at the Bijou, the curtain went up on a very different show—Marvellous Melbourne. This parochial melodrama, at the Alexandra Theatre, was part of extended celebrations in the Victorian colony to commemorate a century of British colonisation and its title recycled an oft repeated phrase coined by the British journalist George Augustus Sala. Visiting Melbourne in 1885, Sala had been hugely impressed with the city’s material progress and lively social life and declared the place simply ‘marvellous’. Alfred Dampier, an enterprising actor, dramatist and manager, exaggerated that compliment with a loose miscellany of city scenes and local ‘allusions’, and turned Marvellous Melbourne into a home grown hit.

In the same year, Dampier succeeded with Robbery Under Arms , a dramatic adaptation of Rolf Boldrewood’s bushranger novel of the same name. ‘Every canvas affording a fresh glimpse of Australian bush scenery was applauded as it came into view,’ the Argus critic wrote. Robbery Under Arms proved beyond doubt that local audiences were willing to embrace Australian themes but this quickening of the nationalist pulse was evident in other spheres, too; in the popularity of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s poems in The Bulletin, in brisk sales for Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) and in the gradual appearance of Australian art on suburban walls.

Progressive painters—among them, Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton—were adopting the plein air (open air) mode favoured by modern artists in Europe and getting down what they saw—a streetscape or a bush scene—in quick, painterly strokes. Together, they were challenging the ‘conviction that Australian nature was monotonous and melancholy’ and giving new ‘naturalistic interpretations of the Australian sunlit landscape’.

The audience for this work was small. So small that Roberts could only make ends meet by working three days a week as a photographers’ assistant. Eleven years younger, Streeton was apprenticed to a lithographer and supported his sketching with freelance black and white art. McCubbin—the oldest of the three—also sought work as an illustrator for newspapers, depicting urban events, bush workers and pioneer settlers. He only had an assured income after being appointed a drawing master at the National Gallery School. Gallery trustees paid little attention to emerging Australian artists, rarely purchasing their work. But, in August 1888 on the occasion of the Melbourne International Centennial Exhibition, space was allowed for ‘local’ art. Among the many hundreds of pictures representing ‘masters of the great European schools’ were eight canvases by Roberts: four portraits, three ‘outdoor anecdotes’ and a flower piece. Two won orders of merit.

Returning to Melbourne in 1885, after four years away travelling and studying in Europe, Roberts had a rare skill set: the ability to do academic portraits, realist figure paintings and—thanks to a passing acquaintance with French Impressionism—fresh and immediate landscape studies. ‘Portraits put jam on Roberts’ bread and butter,’ historian Humphrey McQueen writes. Middle class professionals—doctors, lawyers, retailers—were keen to announce their ascendancy in ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ and by 1887, they were beating a path to the door of Roberts’ William Street studio. Their wives and children came too. A Mrs Spong was the subject of A Head Study in early 1888 but it was with her husband that Roberts forged a firm friendship.

Walter Brookes Spong (1851-1929) had arrived in Victoria from England three years earlier, headhunted by Robert Brough and Dion ‘Dot’ Boucicault to be resident scenic artist at their Bijou Theatre. These British actors and theatre managers valued Spong’s experience at Drury Lane, where he had designed scenery for D’Oyly Carte’s company, and through the late 1880s he rewarded their faith with ‘luxurious and appropriate [stage] settings’ in Melbourne. Spong was an accomplished watercolourist as well and had held exhibitions of his own work in London. Sensing a kindred spirit, British born and Academy trained, Roberts secured his support in forming a new break away organisation for professional artists (the Australian Artists’ Association) and welcomed Spong into his new residential studio at the top end of Collins Street.

Grosvenor Chambers was purpose-built for working artists and Roberts—hungry for his share of Marvellous Melbourne’s prosperity—wished to attract discriminating buyers. To that end, he drew on his experience at Stewart’s photography premises in Bourke Street (where he managed props and lighting) and decorated his studio like a theatre set with silks and draperies, agate vases and Japanese screens. His portrait of Mrs L.A. Abrahams (1888) offered fugitive glimpses of his studio’s raffish style but to fully appreciate its charms, one needed to pay a visit on Wednesday afternoon when guests were served tea, serenaded with music and urged to inspect new canvases. These bohemian ‘conversaziones’ attracted pastoralists and captains of industry, Roberts’ conduit to middle class money. Melbourne’s ‘artistes’ came in as well with orator Rev. Charles Clark, contralto Ada Crossley and soprano Nancy Elmhurst Goode all playing bit parts at Grosvenor Chambers.

Between times, Roberts’ second floor studio was a tightly run workplace and by early 1889, he was developing an ambitious ‘history subject’ painting about shearing. The previous spring, he had sketched shearers working at Brocklesby Station in the southern Riverina district of New South Wales and was starting to build this large (122cm x 183cm) picture as a hymn to ‘strong muscular labour’. Comprising 19 figures, several of them in motion, Shearing the Rams was proving a challenge. Around this time, Roberts received a commission that had nothing to do with sheep or ladies in hats: would he consent to paint some theatre scenery?

The offer came from Brough and Boucicault who had ‘thoroughly renovated and redecorated’ their mid-sized playhouse. They were set to resume their Bijou residency at Easter with a season that included Bulwer-Lytton’s classic comedy Money and wanted Roberts to paint ‘Old Master’ pictures for the show’s second act ‘gold scene’. Spong, in charge of sets, thought him eminently suited to the task. Here was a worldly man who had not only copied Old Masters as part of his Royal Academy training in London but had viewed Titians and Rembrandts in European galleries. Perhaps Spong was also struck by the way sitters in Roberts’ portraits often gazed back at the viewer like performers in a play. Whatever the case, his Melbourne artist friend accepted the commission.

Smudgers and Splodgers

It was not unheard of for an easel painter to cross the theatre threshold and paint scenery. Distinctions between the two realms were not immutably fixed in the late nineteenth century and there was traffic between the two. The stage offered artists ‘the best prospects for money making’ and ‘their chance at good earnings came from the preparation of stage sets’. But theatre historian Anita Callaway warns against assuming ‘an artist was forced to work in the theatre’ at this time. ‘Some painters chose to work in both fields,’ she writes.

Conversely, the scene painter ‘considered himself an artist rather than artisan’. This meant he—and it was almost always a ‘he’—felt comfortable exhibiting his small scale artworks to an appreciative audience. John Brunton showed at the Royal Academy in 1886 before designing sets for Melbourne’s Theatre Royal. Spong exhibited his watercolours at the VAS in 1889. But if today’s hierarchical positioning of painting above theatre scene art did not always hold true in the 1880s and 90s, the singular nature of theatre did.

This was a world unto its self, governed by strictly enforced rules and arcane superstitions. Journalist Robert Percy Whitworth captured the atmosphere in Velvet and Rags, an 1889 collection of ‘Australian Theatrical Stories’:

It would be hard to imagine a more prosaic place than the stage of a well conducted theatre at, say, the rehearsal of a new piece. It is a matter of pure, stern, uncompromising business. In the wings are little knots of persons waiting for their entrance cue, or intent on studying their ‘parts’. On the stage are perhaps two or three others rattling perfunctorily through the dialogue of the play, a melancholy washed out looking man seated at the prompt table, book in hand, and the stage manager, irascible as those most worried of potentates, stage managers usually are, directing, imploring, gesticulating and—I am afraid—occasionally swearing , in turns.

In the orchestra is seated in solitary state, the leader, violin in hand and shivering with cold, as he watches for the music cues, while behind the ‘flats’, as the framed scenes are technically called, is a small army of carpenters and other stage hands, busy as bees, while upstairs in the paint room reigns supreme the only man permitted by stage tradition to smoke, the scenic artist, attended by his ‘splodger’.

The marvellously Dickensian word, ‘splodger’ described the scene artists’ assistant who hauled pots, mixed paints and cleaned up afterwards. Under supervision, these young go-to blokes plunged brooms into ‘gallons of distemper’ (aqueous paint bound with animal glue) and painted sections of scenery. George Gordon(1839-1899) had been a splodger once. Apprenticed to his father, the great English scenic artist William Gordon, he learnt the ropes in provincial English theatres. By 1882, he was in Melbourne and contracted to the theatre triumvirate of Williamson, Garner and Musgrove. Unlike his predecessors, who achieved illusions of distance by painting trompe-l’oeil images on a flat surface, Gordon worked in three dimensions: creating scene models ‘in correct proportion’ and ‘transposing’ separate painted sections to the stage:

His canvas is divided into many different sections—‘back cloths’ and ‘ground cloths’, ‘borders’, ‘wings’ and ‘set pieces’—and he sees the entire composition only in his mind’s eye as he paints each part of the scene. It is not until the scene is set upon the stage and ‘pulled together’ that he sees his picture complete.

Some nights, in response to sustained applause for his lovingly detailed renditions of a country cottage or Japanese temple, Gordon—a garrulous Scot—would don an Inverness cape and take a bow. But son John Gordon, a fine scene painter in his own right, insists his father never lost sight of his essential role: to set a scene, impart atmosphere and provide ‘quiet unobtrusive background to brilliant action’.

Unlike England, where contracts were given out to artists running their own establishments, Australian scene painting was mostly done in the theatre. Melbourne’s 1500-seat Bijou was typical, employing a ‘house’ artist who had direct association with the stage director, the players and the heads of various departments. Contracts to repeat a London play in Australia often came with ground plans and scene photographs but some local managers were inclined to request new sketches and models. It was the job of the master mechanist to enlarge these models and hang all the cloths required for painting on giant vertical frames. The scenic artist typically worked in a loft high above the stage or swung about in a bosun’s chair. Gordon—known for his exceptional ‘energy and application’—worked fast, commencing his canvas ‘at the top’, then working ‘downwards a foot at a time’.

A theatre scene was not properly ‘finished’ until it had been ‘dressed’—flowers added to a bush, lattice to a porch—and illuminated with artificial light. By the late 1880s, electricity had replaced gas. James Smith (1820-1910), the respected art critic for the Argus, judged this to have ‘altered the tonal balances of stage properties’ in the scene artists’ favour. With ‘magnesium, lime and electric light’, he can ‘throw the blush of dawn, the glow of sunset and the glamour of moonlight over his pictures’.

McQueen has observed ‘lighting was one link between stage effects and impressionist painting’ but there was a significant difference. As John Gordon pointed out: ‘In a flat, framed painting, the painter selects his own key of colour, high and bright as in [Arthur] Streeton’s works, or low in tone as in [Frederick] McCubbin’s. The scene painter, on the other hand, must give his figures [performing on stage] prominence. The quarrel of two human beings would take precedence of Nature’s greatest cataclysm’.

In nineteenth century theatres, the word ‘Nature’ invariably came with a capital N and referred to sylvan European landscapes of ‘nobility and beauty’. This was unsurprising, given that ‘only the cream of the world’s plays came to Australia’ from England and America, but the odd local drama—with gum trees—was permitted.

An 1873 pantomime titled Australia Felix; or, Harlequin Laughing Jackass and the Magic Bat, illustrated ‘young Australia growing to meet adult challenges’ with colourful cockatoos, helpful wallabies and enchanting bush scenery. A decade later, an adult play titled No Mercy delighted colonial audiences with its ‘background of hills, bush road, winding streams and scrub’. ‘We have seldom seen a more genuine and artistic presentment of Australian inland scenery,’ the Sydney Morning Herald opined. The scene artist responsible was John Hennings (1835-1898).

In old age, McCubbin remembered visiting Melbourne theatres with his parents in the 1860s and delighting in the ‘local scene painting in the Theatre Royal and Princess’. As Hennings was resident scenic artist at the Theatre Royal at this time, young Fred’s ‘early efforts directed at making paper theatres’ were likely to have been inspired by his handiwork.

‘What delight I had in those scenes remembered from the different plays I had been to,’ he wrote. ‘The decoration of the Proscenium in water colours, the side scenes and back cloths, the little figures cut out of paper.’

Such was his obsession, teenage McCubbin kept making ‘little theatres’ while employed as a junior clerk at a Bank Place law firm. It ended badly. His ‘ingenious little contrivances’ having been discovered, he was shown the door. Fortunately, showing an aptitude for drawing, McCubbin went on to enrol in painting classes at the Melbourne National Gallery School where one of his chums was an ‘earnest draughtsman’ named Tom Roberts.

McCubbin never lost his love of making a scene. Old Stables (c.1884), empty but for a small white bird, closely resembled a stage set waiting for players to come on and perform while Melbourne 1888—a very still city scene juxtaposing the commercial with the ecclesiastical—was devoid of any visible life. In fact, Melbourne that year was at its bustling, hustling best. The old commercial port built on the back of gold was now a fully fledged metropolis of some 400,000 inhabitants (two thirds native born) and Roberts’ painting of Bourke Street West on a hot summer’s day, Allegro con brio (1885-90), conveyed some of its restless energy with billowing dust, fluttering flags and scurrying figures.

By 1888, Melbourne threatened to overtake Sydney as Australia’s economic engine room. As historian Manning Clark explained: ‘While there was land to sell and buyers to invest and auctioneers to bring buyers and sellers together, there was every prospect of a land boom continuing forever’.

Outer suburbs were rapidly encroaching on countryside and this is where Roberts and McCubbin bonded. In the summer of 1885-86, the two artists packed their art materials in swags and camped on a property at the end of a train line near Box Hill. Out there, among the ‘young blue gums’, they sketched and painted directly from nature, working up bush scenes ‘on the spot’. With his picture, The Artists’ Camp, Roberts worked like a stage director, cropping a close up view of their tent so there was no hint of creeping modernisation. McCubbin’s direct experience of the bush at Box Hill affected his own practice, his customary palette of dark browns giving way to lighter silvery greens and greys.

Their ‘impressions’ did not find many buyers. At the annual spring exhibitions, Melburnians favoured sentimental narratives with an improving tone. Roberts and McCubbin began to craft their own ‘anecdotal pictures’, telling a story while giving the impression they had captured something ‘seen’. A Summer Morning Tiff, painted in the early autumn of 1886 at Box Hill, was carefully orchestrated with Roberts ‘casting’ McCubbin’s sister Harriet as the woman in white standing ‘in sunlight amongst some exquisite young white gum saplings’. Lost, painted by McCubbin in the same year, also carried ‘the smell of gum leaves’ and depicted another young girl alone in the alien bush—in fact, his other sister Mary (known as Dolly).

Figures were not Arthur Streeton’s strong suit but this eager 19-year-old artist, a pupil of McCubbin’s at the National Gallery School, possessed other talents: strong eye-to-hand co-ordination, skilful brushwork, and a disciplined use of colour and tone. Encountering Streeton by the beach at Mentone, and admiring the vivid ‘light and air’ of his landscapes, Roberts and McCubbin invited him to join their ‘camp’. From that moment on, they were ‘Brother Smudgers’, a term of affection which Roberts cemented in song: ‘Now, Brother Smudgers list to me/ And don’t indulge in fancy free/ Nor never from your line depart/ To have a fly at ‘Higher Art’.

Nicknames went with the territory. Roberts was ‘Bulldog’, a salute to his doggedness. McCubbin was ‘The Prof’ because of his inclination to philosophise around the campfire. And Streeton? The others called him ‘Smike’, the name of a dreamy character in Charles Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby and a nod to young Arthurs’s ‘lifelong engagement with literature and music’.

The Sunny South (1887) was an enduring image of their brotherhood. For this painting, depicting three nude bathers by the bay, Roberts looked to his mates for inspiration. It is Streeton edging towards the blue water, McCubbin standing among the banksias and Louis Abrahams—another Box Hill ‘regular’—sitting down. A year later, when the ‘smudgers’ exhibited together, James Smith decided the trio ‘may be grouped together on account of the similarity of their procedure in landscape painting’ which fell ‘more and more under the influence of the French Impressionists’.

Smith singled out Streeton’s Settler’s Camp (1888) for praise, admiring its ‘poetical interpretation’ of the ‘lonely and self reliant’ free selector. But whereas Roberts and McCubbin tended to regard the bush as a setting for compositions dominated by figures, Streeton’s real interest lay in the setting itself.

This preference was made plain in the summer of 1888-89, at Mount Eagle near the village of Heidelberg. Captivated by the shimmering heat, the dry grass and blue skies, Streeton dubbed their Eaglemont camp ‘our hill of gold’ and compared it to a kind of outdoor theatre where, sitting ‘in the upper circle’, he could see ‘all the light, glory and quivering brightness’ passing ‘slowly & freely’ before his eyes. Streeton set down his feelings of joy in an open-air sketch he called Impression for ‘Golden Summer’ (c.1888). Charles Conder (1868-1909) depicted this small sketch in his own picture of the Impressionists’ Camp (1888) at Eaglemont. Roberts had befriended Conder a year earlier in Sydney.

Streeton’s ‘impression’ ballooned into his largest (81.3cm x 152.6cm) painting yet: Golden Summer, Eaglemont (1889). An even bigger landscape followed: Still Glides the stream, and shall for ever glide’ (1890), which depicted the Yarra meandering through river flats. In going wide, Streeton was breaking with the bush close ups espoused by his ‘Brother Smudgers’ and following a lead set by colonial artists. But where big picture men such as Eugene von Guerard (1811-1901) and Nicholas Chevalier (1828-1902) ‘strove to portray ... Nature in her grandeur rather than in her homely moods’, he sought a more personal relationship with Australia’s landscape. One that allowed him to focus on the sensation of looking at, and being at one, with the natural world while not offending the taste of the city people he needed to sell to.

Streeton struggled to describe the poetry he sensed around him:

I picture in my head the Murray ... & the great gold plains & all the beautiful inland Australia & I love the thought of walking into all this and trying to expand and express it in my way. I fancy large canvases all glowing & moving in the happy light.

Streeton’s vista vision encouraged flights of lyrical imagery comparable to poetry. Callaway invites another comparison: ‘As his paintings broadened both in a figurative sense and in their actual dimensions, they became more and more like panoramas’. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a panorama as ‘a view from a great distance that covers a very large area’ but in the late nineteenth century, this word also described a hand-cranked theatre device for presenting an unbroken succession of painted scenes for the purposes of enjoyment and instruction. Panorama ‘exhibitions’ were hugely popular in Melbourne, describing voyages and historical events by unfolding images ‘like passing scenery glimpsed through a carriage window’. In 1889, they were superseded by cycloramas, new ‘illusionistic entertainments’ commonly displayed inside a large (400 feet long by 50 feet high) drum like structure made of brick and iron. Viewers ascended a raised central platform, via an internal staircase, and found themselves surrounded by continuous 360 degree panoramic paintings depicting everything from the ‘Battle of Waterloo’ to the ‘Eureka Stockade’.

Streeton visited one of Melbourne’s early cycloramas on Victoria Parade in Fitzroy, and was impressed with what he saw. In a letter to the Victorian Artists’ Society, dated 26 September 1890, he wrote: ‘The Cyclorama has drawn the multitude simply because it contains, as well as good [painted] work, a certain spontaneous magic—which, as most people know does not pervade our Exhbn [sic] room’.

We do not know if this encounter had a direct impact on his practice but Callaway argues ‘the notion that Streeton could have been influenced by scene painting in some way is not too far-fetched’. In October 1890, this young painter with Kipling stories and Browning poems in his coat pocket was put ‘on the pay roll of the Brough and Boucicault company’, ‘assisting Mr. W.B. Spong’ on Bijou theatre scenery. ‘I worked till late at night,’ he recalled later, ‘and usually mounted the dark hillsides for home at 1 o’clock in the morning’.

Streeton earned ‘one pound a day’ at the Bijou and gained access to that ‘inscrutable gangway, the stage door’, through which he could then mingle with ‘The Company’: from ‘the Grand Panjandrum—the stage manager himself—down to Johnny, the call boy’. George Gordon, across the street at the Theatre Royal, was a drinking friend and two black and white drawings—one titled, Among the Flies, Theatre Royal (1890)—testify to Streeton’s privileged backstage access.

It is a stretch to say this proximity to theatre scenery shaped Streeton’s wide angle work but, like Gordon, he was in the business of illusion and spectacle. Theatre managers emphasised this parallel, too, erecting gold frames around their prosceniums and implying its worth as ‘Art’.

Roberts was more front-of-house than behind the scenes. Well connected with Melbourne’s ‘coterie of theatrical identities’, he was a flamboyant first nighter, his propensity for wearing cloaks lined with red satin and a ‘crush’ topper rarely seen outside London the talk of social pages. This play acting as a ‘Society Bohemian’ had a serious purpose: recently returned from London, after studying abroad, Roberts needed to court the colonial bourgeoisie if he was going to prosper as an artist and its well-heeled members were often found—after hours—in plush theatres, bars and saloons.

His connection with Caleb Williamson (1828-1905) was especially important. Manager of a prominent city department store, Williamson had ‘a great appreciation of art and music’ and introduced Roberts to ‘a circle of ‘like-minded business associates’ who, subsequently, sought portrait commissions.


To be concluded in the next issue



Christine Angel, ‘The Woman Who Did: Janet Achurch, Ibsen and the New Woman, Australia 1889-1891’, PhD, School of Humanities, University of Tasmania 2014,

Leigh Astbury, ‘Memory and Desire: Box Hill 1885-88’, in Terence Lane (ed.) Australian Impressionism, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007

Anita Callaway, Visual Ephemera: theatrical art in nineteenth-century Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2000

Manning Clark, A History of Australia V: The People Make Laws 1888-1915. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1981

Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1955

Mimi Colligan, Canvas Documentaries: panoramic entertainments in nineteenth-century Australia and New Zealand, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2002

Julie Cotter, Tom Roberts & the Art of Portraiture, Thames and Hudson, Port Melbourne, 2015

Graeme Davison, The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1979

Ann Galbally and Anne Gray (eds), Letters from Smike: the letters of Arthur Streeton, 1890-1930, Oxford University Press Australia, Melbourne, 1989

John Gordon, ‘Scene Painting in Australia’, in The Lone Hand, 2 November 1908

Robert Hughes, The Art of Australia, Penguin, Ringwood, 1966

Elisabeth Kumm, The Busy Bees: a theatrical biography of Robert Brough, Dion Boucicault Jnr and their circle, unpublished manuscript

Terence Lane, ‘Grosvenor Chambers, A Phenomenon of Marvellous Melbourne’, in Australian Impressionism, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007

James Macdonald, The Art of F. McCubbin, Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, 1986

Humphrey McQueen, Tom Roberts, Macmillan, 1996

H. McQueen, ‘The Fortunes of Tom Roberts’, in Terence Lane, Australian Impressionism, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007

‘Much Ado About Nothing: how a great piece is rehearsed’, Australasian (Melbourne), 2 January 1892

National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Impressionism: NGV Education Resource,

Roger Neill, ‘H. Walter Barnett and Falk Studios’ in The Falk Studios: the theatrical portrait photography of H. Walter Barnett, Theatre Heritage Australia, Melbourne, 2021

Philip Parsons (ed.), Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, Sydney, 1995

Juliette Peers, ‘Two tenants of Number 9 Collins Street: Tom Roberts and Kate Keziah Eeles’, press-files,

Hal Porter, Stars of Australian Stage and Screen, Rigby, Adelaide, 1965

John Poynter, The Audacious Adventures of Dr Louis Lawrence Smith 1830-1910, vol. 2, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne, 2014

Ron Radford (ed.), Tom Roberts Retrospective, Art Gallery of South Australia, Art Exhibitions Australia, 1996-97

Bernard Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1970, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1971

Geoffrey Smith, Arthur Streeton 1867-1943, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995

Arthur Streeton, ‘Eaglemont in the ‘Eighties’, Argus (Melbourne), 16 October 1934

Alex Taylor, Perils of the Studio: inside the artistic affairs of bohemian Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne, 2007

Angus Trumble, ‘Colony and Capital in Australian Impressionist Portraiture’ in Terence Lane, Australian Impressionism, National Gallery of Victoria, 2007

Bridget Whitelaw, The Art of Frederick McCubbin, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1991

Robert Percy Whitworth, ‘Behind the footlights’ in Velvet and Rags: a series of theatrical stories, 1886,

With special thanks to Claudia Funder (Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne) and Elisabeth Kumm (Theatre Heritage Australia)

Last modified on Thursday, 17 December 2020
Simon Plant

SIMON PLANT BA (Hons) and Masters (University of Melbourne) is a Melbourne writer and historian. His 35 year career in journalism includes three decades at the Herald and Weekly Times as a reporter and editor specialising in arts and entertainment. Simon is writing a play about the novelist Ian Fleming and undertaking research into showman George Coppin’s travels in Civil War America.