State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 56 Spring 1995

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Pictures

Material in the Picture Collection relating to nineteenth-century exhibitions generally falls into three categories: images of the buildings in which exhibitions took place; views of the interior of exhibition halls showing the various contributions made by participating nations or colonies; and, to a lesser extent, items which were themselves exhibited, including albums of photographs.
As one might expect, the Collection holds far more material for those exhibitions held in Victoria than for those held interstate or overseas. Included amongst the latter are photographs documenting Victoria's contribution to both the Dublin International Exhibition of 1865 and the Paris Exhibition of 1867. In both sets of photographs the curious golden pyramid, representing all the gold discovered in Victoria, is easily discernible within the Victorian Court. Also held are photographs depicting the Victorian Court at the Sydney Metropolitan Intercolonial Exhibition of 1873, and the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition of 1879–80.

Entrance to Victorian Court at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1867 (LTAEF 123 H3910)

With regard to Melbourne exhibitions, the Collection holds a copy of Edmund Thomas's view of the exterior of buildings erected for the Melbourne Exhibition of 1854, on the site where the Old Mint now stands. These same premises were also used for the 1861 Victorian Exhibition, but for some reason this exhibition is represented by very few items, among them two visitor's passes. In contrast, the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866–67, held in halls erected at the rear of the Melbourne Public Library, is well represented both by photographs taken by Thomas Ellis, who was commissioned by the Exhibition Trustees to ensure that a complete photographic record of the event was captured (see Kirstie McRobert's essay in this issue), and by others, such as Charles Nettleton, who photographed a number of exhibits.
Perhaps not suprisingly, given the proximity of the 1866–67 Exhibition to the Library, a number of the exhibits found their way into the Library's collections. Amongst these are over 50 portraits of the Governors of the Australian colonies, known as “oval portraits”, which were produced expressly for the exhibition at the request of Sir Redmond Barry.1 The majority
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of these portraits are albumen silver photographs hand-painted with watercolour and gouache to give the illusion of painted portraits. Also held is Charles Walter's montage of 106 albumen silver carte-de-visite portraits of Aborigines living at Coranderrk, near Healesville. These photographs, arranged in tiers according to whether the subjects were deemed to be full, half or quarter caste,2 indicate something of the interest photographers of the period had in depicting Aboriginal subjects, as well as pointing toward the Victorian fascination with order; they are equally considered today by descendants of those appearing in the photographs as an important link to past family connections. Further items, originally exhibited in the 1866–67 Melbourne Exhibition and now held by the Library, include numerous albums of photographic views of the municipalities of Melbourne and of Victorian towns. These comprise, amongst others, photographs taken by Joseph Soden, John Norton, and the photographers Cox and Luckin (see Mary Lewis's essay in this issue).
The Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880–81 is also well represented by images of the exterior of the building, parts of which are still standing in the Carlton Gardens, as well as views of the interior. The latter were recently used to assist with the replication of the original stencilled paintwork. The interior views also depict the displays of participating states and countries. In stark contrast to the engravings from the illustrated newspapers of the day, which depict throngs of people attending the exhibition, these interior photographic views are almost always devoid of people.
At the conclusion of the 1880–81 Melbourne Exhibition the French government presented the entire contents of the French Court to the Melbourne Public Library.3 Beautifully bound photograph albums illustrating Haussman's reshaping of Paris, and French advances in

View of Paris (Rue de Presbourg) exhibited in the French Court at the Melbourne International Exhibition, 1880 (LTWEF 17)

engineering and water supply, which formed part of this gift, are now housed in the Picture Collection. A visit in 1992 by a curator of the photographic collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris testified to the rarity and importance of this material.
The collections outlined above provide evidence of the key part played by the Melbourne Public Library in the history of nineteenth century exhibitions, not least of which was its role in the organisation of the 1866–67 Intercolonial Exhibition. But perhaps its most important role lay in preserving a visual record of those events, a record which today allows us to determine something of the cultural framework in which Melbourne operated over one hundred years ago.
Michael Galimany
Librarian in the Picture Collection
of the La Trobe Library

1

The Library holds 53 of these works. It is not known how many were completed as the official exhibition record does not record the number of works displayed.

2

Christine Downer, “Portfolios for the curious: photographic collecting by the Melbourne Public Library 1859–1870”, The first collections: the Public Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in the 1850's and 1860's: University Gallery, the University of Melbourne Museum of Art 14 May — 15 July 1992. Parkville, The Museum, 1992, pp.73–79.

3

Paul Fox, “Exhibition City: Melbourne and the 1880 International Exhibition”, Transition Summer 1990, p.66.