State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 75 Autumn 2005

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From the Editorial Chair

Since the Cowen Gallery was opened in November 2003, visitors who would not otherwise have entered the building have come “to see the pictures'. Many of the paintings now exhibited in the new gallery had previously been stored because there was so little space in which to put them on public display. The permanent exhibition in the Cowen Gallery, consisting of portraits and places of interest to Victorians, ranges from the early colonial to the contemporary. In collecting paintings and other works of art as well as books and manuscripts, the State Library fulfils an important role in preserving the cultural memory of the community. Our aim in this number of The La Trobe Journal is to give readers an introduction to that aspect of the Library, and a sampling of the research on the Library holdings that has been done by scholars, both inside and outside the institution.
It is possible to reproduce here only a few of the more interesting paintings now on exhibition, but perhaps that will be enough to give readers who have not yet been to the Gallery some idea of what to expect. Shane Carmody, Director of Collections and Access, gives a brief account of the collection and the exhibition space, and Virginia Dahlenburg, Senior Paintings Conservator, gives a view from the workroom. Kathleen Fennessy does not discuss the Cowen Gallery, but her research into the early history of the institution puts the present picture gallery in historical perspective. (Readers who are fortunate enough to have a copy of The La Trobe Journal No. 73 — the Redmond Barry Number — may find it rewarding to read her article alongside the material found there on Barry's role at the Library.)
On the way to the Redmond Barry Reading Room visitors pass through the Cowen Gallery, with Louis Buvelot's Terrinallum Homestead on the left and William Strutt's Black Thursday on the right. Even the most pedantic scholars, with their minds full of the pleasures of deciphering obscure manuscripts and poring over arcane literature, can hardly fail to notice these two outstanding paintings, both of which are discussed by contributors to this issue. Picture Librarian Madeleine Say outlines the extraordinary history of Strutt's painting between the date of its creation in 1864 and its present home, thus providing an insight into the vagaries of taste and public policy. Anne Colman, probably the first Australian writer on Buvelot to look at his paintings in Brazil, presents a new perspective on the influential painter often referred to as “the Father of Australian Landscape Painting'.
In a second article Madeleine Say offers a fascinating insight into history painting, a genre well represented in the Library collection. She focuses on Henry Short's Robert Hoddle Dec. 1845 near the Source of the Yarra Yarra River Starvation Creek, a painting produced 15 years after the event that it memorialises, and examines how Hoddle's sketches were used by early painters as the basis for their own compositions. Foundation members will be aware that the Foundation provided funds for the purchase of Short's painting in 2002, and more recently for some watercolours by Hoddle.
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A different sort of detective work is undertaken by Anne Neale, who has been researching the work of Edward La Trobe Bateman. His pencil sketches of La Trobe's cottage (La Trobe was his cousin) are of particular interest; but Dr Neale's concern here is a little sketch of a stockman's hut that, for the better part of a century, has been wrongly identified as the hut of John McLure, the tutor of George Gordon McCrae, at Arthur's Seat. This article is a demonstration of the careful sifting of facts and the logical thinking that lies behind the judgements of professional historians. One may fairly claim that these characteristics are to be found in the research work presented in this issue of The La Trobe Journal.
Scrupulous and painstaking research is necessary when documentation is scarce or non-existent. In the absence of Alexander Fletcher's business records, Caroline Jordan can only speculate on what caused the disappearance of his business, but from a wide range of sources she has been able to build up an authoritative account of his business dealings when “Fletcher's of Collins Street” was a phrase familiar to the residents of Marvellous Melbourne.
Caroline Jordan's task would have been easier if the Melbourne Public Library in the 1890s had been interested in buying an art dealer's records. How attitudes have changed since then is underlined by the fact that in 2001 the State Library bought the business records and trading stock of a political poster workshop that had operated in Melbourne from the late 1970s. Olga Tsara is able to trace in considerable detail the history of the RedPlanet, and document the factors that had brought the enterprise to an end by December 1999. It is pleasing to note that Olga Tsara's article is based on research she did in 2003 as an inaugural Staff Fellow at the State Library.
Our intention was to include photography in this number of the Journal, but so much material has been submitted that several articles on that topic have been held over to appear in No. 76. It is perhaps appropriate here to say that we welcome articles on all sorts of topics that relate in some way to the Library, and no-one should be discouraged from submitting an article by our announcing a specific focus for a future issue.
John Barnes

Acknowledgements

The State Library of Victoria Foundation gratefully acknowledges the courtesy of the Library Council of New South Wales and the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro, in granting permission to reproduce in this number of The La Trobe Journal colour images of paintings held in their collections
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Michael Carver, photographer. {Bust of G.V. Brooke in north rotunda of the Cowen Gallery}. 2005. State Library of Victoria, Photographic Unit. The Shakespearean actor Gustavus Vaughan Brooke (1818–1866) was popular in the Australian colonies where he toured 1855–1861. His final and greatest performance was when he remained on the sinking ship London, which was bringing him back to Melbourne, his last words reportedly being “Remember me to my friends in Melbourne'. The marble bust by Charles Summers, a gift of his friends to the Melbourne Public Library, was unveiled in the gallery of art on 29 December 1868.