State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 42 Spring 1988

37

Illuminating Oakleigh

In April 1987 the Library Council of Victoria purchased for the Picture Collection of the La Trobe Library a large, framed illuminated address painted by Ludwig Lang and presented in 1891 to Francis Walter Binns, first Mayor of Oakleigh. This important purchase added to an already impressive collection of similar items including two significant groups presented to two early Governors of Victoria, Sir Henry Brougham Loch and the Earl of Hopetoun.
Sir Henry Brougham Loch became Governor of Victoria in 1884 and remained in office until 1889. Although keeping a politically low profile, he and Lady Loch were socially successful. They ‘left behind nothing but pleasant memories, and received more than the usual quota of farewell addresses, mementos and presentations from the community’1. The State Library has for some time possessed many of the addresses presented to Sir Henry and Lady Loch during their stay in Victoria. The collection consists of 28 separately bound addresses and an additional 83 bound in three massive volumes. On paper, parchment or silk, with varying degrees of decoration and never-failing enthusiasm, they express the loyal, respectful and proud sentiments of Victorians from many different localities, organisations and societies.
The Earl of Hopetoun was the next Governor of Victoria, remaining until March 1895. He returned briefly as the first Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia during the period January 1901 to January 1903.2 On his return to England he was created Marquess of Linlithgow. During the late 1960s a large group of illuminated addresses from the collection of The Most Hon. The Marquess of Linlithgow and dedicated to the Earl of Hopetoun during his period as Governor of Victoria was sold at Christie's auction rooms in London3 to Dr. Norman Wettenhall of Melbourne. His purchase prevented the dispersal of the collection, ensuring its return to Australia and its eventual acquisition by a public collection, for it was bought from him by the Library Council of Victoria in 1985. Thus the Picture Collection acquired 153 illuminated addresses and scrolls, some of them expressing the pleasure given to Victorians by the Governor's visits to distant country areas such as Mildura, Omeo, and St. Arnaud. These two major collections of addresses, most of them dated and some of them signed by the artists responsible for the decoration, constitute a body of work against which other individual addresses can be studied.
Written addresses were presented to officials, dignitaries or holders of office to mark special occasions or outstanding service by expressing the gratitude or pride of the presenters. Such gifts were popular in Victoria in the 1880s and 1890s. They generally consisted of one or two pages of original text written calligraphically on paper and were often surrounded, or even dominated by, elaborate coloured borders, headings, initials and miniatures painted in water-colour and enriched with gold. Although most decoration was painted by hand, text was occasionally set within a lithographed border. Floral decoration was often favoured, though its exuberance was sometimes exceeded by the floridness of the prose! Addresses were usually solidly bound in gold-embossed leather covers faced with silk. W. Detmold, Arnall and Jackson, and Mercer of Geelong were responsible for some of these bindings. More rarely, addresses were framed or rolled as a scroll. Particular artists developed recognizable styles of decoration but overall much versatility was shown in the design and decorative themes. Painting illuminated addresses as special commissions or standard productions for a ready market must have supplemented the incomes of many artists.
The presentation of illuminated addresses was by no means confined to the final two decades of last century. There is evidence that they remained fashionable well into the 1930s, for the Picture Collection has two fine examples dedicated to George Anderson for services to the printing industry and dated 1925 and 1937.
The most familiar predecessors of the style of decoration of illuminated addresses are the religious texts of the Middle Ages. The production of these illuminated manuscripts was originally the monopoly of the monastic scriptoria. The basic elements of illumination (the calligraphic or historiated initial, the miniature or pictorial illustration and the decorative border) as well as text complete with decorative line-endings or versets are common to both Medieval manuscripts and nineteenth and twentieth century illuminated addresses.4 However, it would be unjustifiably ambitious to claim a continuous link between these very early and more modern forms of illumination. Illuminated addresses are more easily seen as an outcome of the Victorian era's romantic revival of interest in the Middle Ages. It is interesting, though, to note a late flowering of the arts of calligraphy and decoration in religious houses where a
38

Ludwig Lang
Illuminated address to Francis W. Binns, 1891.
Watercolour, and glaze on paper. Moulded frame.
56.5cm × 43.0cm inside mount.
Signed l.l.: L. Lang, 479 Collins St. Melb. Dated in text.
Presented by the Council of the Borough of Oakleigh to reward
Binns’ work as first Mayor of Oakleigh.
Decoration includes exuberant flora, a bush scene and new hamlet,
with formal; friezes surrounding text and inset. Colours are
vivid but generally naturalistic
.

39
‘descendant’ of the illuminated address, the Spiritual Bouquet, was produced not by Medieval monks but by nuns in Australia at least as late as the 1960s.5
To illustrate the insights, social, historical and artistic, to be gained from a detailed study of a particular illuminated address, let us look at the latest purchase by the Library. The address presented to Francis Walter Binns in 1891 (hereafter referred to as the ‘Oakleigh address’) is unusually large, measuring 56.5 × 43cm inside the mount. The text, covering less than a quarter of the total surface area, is set off-centre to the right within an idealized bush scene behind a foreground display of native flowers including waratahs and heaths. A curving, newly-made bush track and two carefully-placed rustic figures frame the text. Curiously, this careful approach to composition and detail is entirely neglected in the sketchy area on the far right. Below the text is a small circular inset showing the beginnings of a settlement in cleared bush. This, in contrast to the main scene, shows man imposing his rule on nature and introduces the theme of progress. This impression is further reinforced by the narrow tonality used in the depiction, suggestive of a sepia photograph. Both insets are surrounded by decorative painted borders, finely executed, in a very characteristic late Victorian style. The address is signed lower left ‘L. Lang. 479 Collins St. Melb’. and is enclosed in a moulded frame.
The text itself is written in accomplished, fine calligraphy with coloured capital letters, delicate scrolling and decorative line-endings. A large, red official seal is placed lower left.
The text reads:
To F. W. Binns Esq. J.P.
Mayor of Oakleigh.
Dear Sir,
We the undersigned Members
of the Council of the Borough of Oakleigh at the termination of your period of Office as the first Mayor of the Borough desire to place on record in some permanent manner our warm appreciation of the manner in which you have conducted the business of the Council — and also to express our sense of the indefatigable exertions used by you in securing the formation of the Borough.
Wishing you every success in life and hoping you may long be spared to give the Borough the benefit of your Services.
We are Dear Sir,
Yours faithfully
Thomas Davey. Mayor
Henry Bishop. Town Clerk
Borough Chambers,
Oakleigh,
.
The address was the last item on the agenda of the Annual Meeting of the Oakleigh Borough Council on Monday 17 August 1891, following discussions on the composition of the Public Works, Finance, Gardens and Legislative Committees. The presentation was recorded on the front page of the Oakleigh and Fern Tree Gully Times the next Saturday:
Cr. Hallett moved a hearty vote of thanks to the retiring Mayor, Cr. Binns, and spoke in the highest terms of the services that he had rendered to Oakleigh … At the Mayor's suggestion, it was agreed to present Cr. Binns with an illuminated address, as a record of the circumstance that he had been the first Mayor of Oakleigh. Cr. Binns responded, and in doing so referred briefly to the action he had taken in connection with municipal matters since settling in Oakleigh … He thanked the council sincerely for the compliment they had paid him, and the courtesy and assistance rendered to him whilst he had presided over their proceedings.
Francis Walter Binns first represented the South Riding of Oakleigh Shire in 1889, became Shire President and then Mayor in 1891, then Councillor again from August 1891 until August 1893. As his council colleagues of 1891 humbly hoped, he was indeed long spared to serve the Borough, as Councillor once more from 1897 until 1905 (but never again as Mayor).6
Oakleigh was constituted a District in January 1857 and proclaimed a Shire in December 1871.7 Years of debate and four public meetings preceded the decision to sever the township of Oakleigh from the Oakleigh Shire. This was finally achieved and the township became a Borough on 13 March 1891. The Shire of Oakleigh took the name of Mulgrave in 1897, thus leaving only one Oakleigh, the Borough.8 It was for his leadership during the formation of the Borough that Binns received his impressive illuminated address by Ludwig Lang.
Lang, a painter, lithographic artist and teacher, was born in Germany in 1835 and arrived in Melbourne in February 1860. He worked as lithographic artist for various companies including Schuhkraft and
40

Ludwig Lang
Illuminated address to ‘The Earl of Hopetoun’, 1889.
Watercolour, glaze and gold leaf on paper. Brown morocco leather binding.
44.6cm × 32.9cm inside mount.
Signed l.r.: L. Lang, Fink's Builds. Melb. Dated in text.
Presented by the Mayor, Councillors and citizens of the City of
South Melbourne to welcome the Governor.
Decoration includes a floral spray, illustration of South Melbourne
Town Hall and formal friezes in greens, maroon and gold
.

41
Howell, Fergusson and Mitchell, Sands and McDougall and the Victorian Government Printing Office, as well as spending periods self-employed in his own studios. Lang was foundation President of the Victorian Lithographic Artists and Engravers Club, serving from 1889 to 1891, but was not involved in any art society either as member or exhibitor.9
Besides the Oakleigh address, the Picture Collection has four other illuminated addresses, signed by Lang, which are part of the collection formerly belonging to Lord Hopetoun. There are no signed examples from Sir Henry Brougham Loch's collection, although it is possible that Lang was responsible for some produced by Sands and McDougall, where he was employed between 1877 and 1885. Illuminated addresses signed by Lang were presented to Lord Hopetoun by the Melbourne Diocese of the Church of England, Numurkah Shire, Shepparton Shire and the City of South Melbourne. All date from the period after 1885, when Lang kept his own studio, and all are bound in leather. The decoration consistently shows careful attention to detail and composition. The amount, but not the quantity, of decoration varies considerably and is probably directly related to the funds available for the commission. Where floral decoration is used, in the Oakleigh, Numurkah, Shepparton and South Melbourne addresses, Lang favoured robust, waxy flowers in strong colours. He was particularly adept at using interestingly-shaped mounts to create surface variation. This characteristic is common to the Shepparton, Oakleigh and South Melbourne addresses. The latter two also show a contrast between the fanciful exuberance of the floral and non-figurative decoration, and the discipline of a smaller, photographically-accurate representation of a local scene. The Oakleigh address is the largest, most opulent example of the five. Although they constitute but a small body of work, these five signed watercolours by Lang nevertheless add to our knowledge of his oeuvre.
Each illuminated address can be of interest for its recipient, the occasion of its presentation, the services which inspired it, the group which commissioned and gave it, its style of decoration, decorative elements and creator. A study of one recently acquired address thus illuminates an important episode in the history of Oakleigh, the activities of its first Mayor and Councillors and the skill of a little known Victorian artist. Finally, seen in the context of a much vaster collection of illuminated addresses, the Oakleigh address emerges as a splendid example of a social convention in which fulsome written praise set within decorated borders was used as a lasting reward for, and record of, community service.

Notes

My thanks to Mrs. Christine Downer and Dr. Tom Darragh, for their advice and information.
Wendy Pryor

1

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 5: 1851–1890, K-Q. (Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1974) p.99.

2

Official Year Book of Australia, No. 61,1975 and 1976. (Canberra, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1977) p.78.

3

Christie's Review of the Year 1968/1969. (London, Newman Neame, 1969) p. 240.

4

John Harthan, Books of Hours and their owners. (London, Thames and Hudson, 1977).

5

Information kindly contributed by Professor Margaret Manion, Herald Chair of Fine Arts, University of Melbourne.

6

Victorian Municipal Directory, various years. (Melbourne, Arnall and Jackson).

7

Ibid, 1891, p.449.

8

For a fuller account of the severance see Susan Priestly, Cattlemen to commuters, a history of the Mulgrave District — now the City of Waverley 1839–1961. (Sydney, John Ferguson, 1979) pp. 59–62.

9

Dictionary of Australian Artists. In Press.