fig. 1
Penghana at the turn of the century, before the garden was established or new wings added to the residence.

A large proportion of the riches of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Victoria have been acquired from major private collections of works on paper, through the Felton Bequest. Although Daryl Lindsay, Director of the Gallery from 1941 to 1956, drew attention to a number of significant purchases – such as the Seymour Haden Collection (rich in prints by Albrecht Dürer) in 1891–92; the Lionel Lindsay Collection (old master drawings and prints) in 1930; the Bequest of Howard Spensley (paintings and sculpture as well as prints) in 1939; and the Sir Thomas Barlow Collection (significant further additions to the Dürer holdings) in 1956 – when in 1963 he published his survey of the history of the Felton Bequest, he nonetheless neglected to mention a 1923 Felton Bequest purchase that was significant both for the breadth and diversity of its content and for the sheer number of pieces acquired.1D. Lindsay, The Felton Bequest: An Historical Record, 1904–1959, Melbourne, 1963. For the Seymour Haden Collection, see I. Zdanowicz, ‘Prints of Fortune: Hubert Herkomer’s 1891–92 Etching Purchases for the National Gallery of Victoria’, Art Bulletin of Victoria, no. 33, 1993, pp. 1–17. This purchase, from the private collection of Robert Carl Sticht (1857–1922), added over two thousand European, including English, prints and drawings to the National Gallery collections, and a similar number of fragments from early printed books to the collections of the Public Library.

While individual Sticht items in both state institutions have been published since 1923, the collections formed by Robert Sticht have not as a whole received the attention they merit.2 Published Sticht items include: the Horae ad usum Sarum (Julian Notary), 1500 (in J. Gartner, Miniature Incunabulam, Melbourne, 1938), and parts of a scrapbook of collated manuscript fragments (in M. M. Manion & V F. Vines, Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts in Australian Collections, Melbourne, 1984), from the State Library of Victoria; and Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, illustrated by William Blake (in M. Butlin & T. Gott, William Blake in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, The Robert Raynor Publications in Prints and Drawings, no. 3, Melbourne, 1989, pp. 157–72), and a number of prints by Albrecht Dürer (in I. Zdanowicz (ed.), Albrecht Dürer in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, The Robert Raynor Publications in Prints and Drawings, no. 5, Melbourne, 1994), from the National Gallery of Victoria. In fact, Sticht’s collecting activities were far broader than has been recognised even through the Melbourne holdings: in the first decade of this century he was to gather in his home on the remote west coast of Tasmania important collections not only of oil paintings, works on paper, incunabula and antiquarian books, book bindings, title pages, inscribed fly-leaves, and watermarks, but also of anthropological artefacts and mineral and botanical specimens. Within the history of art collecting in Australia, the Sticht Collection is unusual and fascinating, and deserves close attention for a variety of reasons, including the geographical isolation in which it was formed, and the wide-reaching intellectual inquisitiveness that structured its formation. 

Professional life and private passions

Born in 1857 in Hoboken, New Jersey, Robert Sticht was one of five children of German-speaking Scandinavian immigrants. ‘The atmosphere of his childhood’s home, though beautifully moral, was intellectual and rationalistic’, according to a contemporary of Sticht, ‘so that quite naturally, he grew up with a scientific and philosophic outlook’.3 Rev. J. K. Robertson, transcript of memorial service for Robert Sticht at Springvale Crematorium, 2 May 1922, State Archives of Tasmania, Hobart, NS 167/5. Sticht qualified as a mining and metallurgical engineer after five years of study in Germany at the Bergakademie Clausthal, Königliche, and subsequently gained his impressive reputation as an expert in pyritic smelting, in the mining fields of the Rocky Mountains.4 Pyritic smelting was a potentially cost-saving ore-reduction technique that utilised the heat produced by the combustion of the pyrites iron and sulphur, obviating the need for expensive coke supplements. In 1894 Sticht was recruited as Chief Metallurgist by the recently formed Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company of Australia, to build and operate pyritic smelters in the mining community of Mt Lyell on the remote and rugged west coast of Tasmania. A year later, at the age of thirty-eight, with his wife, Marion, Sticht left Pueblo in Colorado to start his career in Australia. 

Within two years, Sticht had risen to the highest position within the company, that of General Manager. Over the next two decades, as a direct result of his innovative metallurgical practices and his ‘natural generosity that endeared him to all who worked with or for him’,5 Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company management report, 8 December 1922, State Archives of Tasmania, Hobart, NS 167/2. he played a central role in establishing the Mt Lyell mine as the most successful copper mine in Australia of the period. The public successes of this fascinating man’s career have been well documented in recent decades, most prominently in Geoffrey Blainey’s history of the Queenstown mines, The peaks of lyell (1954). In the few published sources on Sticht, there are tantalising but all-too-brief references to aspects of his life outside his professional duties: his intellectual nature, his fascination with art and literature and his activities as a collector. Although these non-professional facets of Sticht’s life have been somewhat obscured by his public and professional persona in the seventy years since his death, the broadness of his cultural interests was well recognised by his contemporaries. In its regular feature ‘People We Know’ in August 1907, the Melbourne Punch, for example, enthused: 

Mr Sticht has more than one facet to his mind. He finds recreations, outside his smelting works, in literature and art, and has a taste in pictures truer than that of many a dauber with the paint-brush. There is genuine style in the things which he writes, even though his written works are so purely technical … ‘A remarkable man!’ you say on reading this. He is.6 ‘People We Know’, Punch, Melbourne, 8 August 1907, p. 184. 

 

Within a very few years in Australia, Sticht had established himself not only as a brilliant metallurgist, but also as a scholar and connoisseur. Sticht was to remain a resident in Tasmania with his wife and three Australian-born sons until his death in 1922, travelling internationally on only one occasion, for an extended family holiday to the United States in 1914.7 The holiday was planned to include an extended visit to Continental Europe and to England, but this idea was abandoned when, on the eve of the Stichts’ departure from the USA, war was declared in Europe. Ironically, Sticht’s great professional commitment to the ongoing development of the Mt Lyell mine and smelting works effectively prevented his returning home within a few years, as had been his original intention. In 1907 he wrote to a friend in America:

I have often had the desire to return to the USA, and my wife is chronically of that disposition. Neither of us is in the least Australianised, nor ever will be. But it has never appeared to us that we would better ourselves by returning.8 Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Professor E. D. Peters, Chair of Metallurgy, Harvard University, 22 October 1907, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. Robert and Marion Sticht retained their US citizenship throughout their lives.

 

He concluded: ‘[I]nsensibly almost, year after year has glided by, and we are still here’.9 Sticht letter, 22 October 1907. In his remote environment, Sticht attempted to satisfy his need for intellectual and cultural stimulation in a wide variety of ways, including through active participation (frequently as invited Patron) in groups such as the Queenstown Debating Society and the Penghana Shakespearian Society, and through staging, and performing in, musical soirees at his home.10 Sticht’s zither, on which he often performed, is now in the collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart. Most importantly, Sticht developed a passion for collecting art, books and cultural artefacts – a passion that was to dominate his personal finances and non-professional hours for the first decade of the century, and his intellectual curiosity for the rest of his life. 

The material quality of life for the Stichts, and their opportunities for cultured living, were greatly enhanced by their move in around 1898 – after living for their first few years in Australia in small cottage accommodation in close proximity to the mine smelters – to the newly built mine manager’s residence in central Queenstown. ‘Penghana’, named for an earlier settlement in the area 11 The township of Penghana, which had formed around the base of the newly erected smelters, was razed by bushfire in 1896 and was never rebuilt. Instead, the town’s population re-established itself a few kilometres away, as the settlement of Queenstown, which was quickly to become the centre of the Mt Lyell district. and now a National Trust property, was a grand home (fig. 1), built with a dominating outlook on the top of a hill that had had its crown shaved off for the purpose  (fig. 2). At Penghana, over the decades, the Stichts were to entertain and accommodate numerous visiting dignitaries, including Americans and Australian politicians such as Alfred Deakin and the Governor of Tasmania.12 Alfred Deakin visited Tasmania on a ‘semi-political tour’, which included a visit to the west coast and Queenstown on 2 March 1909. His Excellency Sir Francis Alexander Newdigate Newdegate, the Governor of Tasmania, and his party, stayed at Penghana in February 1918. Robert and Marion Sticht also stayed on at least one occasion with the Governor at Government House in Hobart, and were actually there on the night that the Armistice was declared in 1918. Select visitors to Penghana were given the opportunity to view the full extent of Sticht’s collections, and as a result his reputation spread. 

 

The formation of a collection

Although he had acquired a handful of works of art and a small professional library prior to his move to Australia, Sticht did not begin seriously to collect art and examples of printing until 1900, at the relatively late age of forty-three.13 Sticht’s collection of what he termed ‘South Sea curios’, and other indigenous items, had in fact begun prior to this, in 1895, when he was still resident in the United States. He began to acquire Melanesian and Aboriginal Australian objects, in quantity, from Melbourne and Sydney dealers, and from friends, in 1899. His ability to house his acquisitions was greatly enhanced by the move at this time to Penghana, which provided the space and security in which to form valuable collections. Not having the financial resources to compete at the high end of the art markets in Australia and England (the two markets on which he focused), Sticht made the conscious choice in his art collecting to concentrate on seeking breadth and diversity of representation of printmakers and presses, rather than the highest quality individual pieces. Sticht’s annual salary from 1903 to 1918 was £5000 per annum, which, though high for the period, did not permit, as he put it in 1907, ‘the accumulation of a fortune’.14 Sticht letter, 22 October 1907. He attempted to supplement his salary by investing in shares in the many mining ventures that were continually being developed on the west coast of Tasmania at this time, but further wrote in 1907, ‘I have been too much out of touch with the financial side of mining enterprise to have done well … it is my continual experience to lose, not to gain’, noting that he was forced to ‘rely on mere salary’ for the support of his family and for his private collecting interests.15 Sticht letter, 22 October 1907. The income available to Sticht for art purchases was certainly not large in comparison with that of many recognised Australian and English collectors of the period. Alfred Felton (1831–1904), for example, who established the Felton Bequest, in the years immediately prior to his death, recorded his annual income at £20 000 – four times the amount Sticht earned.16 See J. Poynter, Russell Grimwade, Melbourne, 1967, p. 37. George Salting (1835–1909), an Australian living in England who around the turn of the century acquired a fine collection of prints and drawings (now in the British Museum), had some £30 000 per annum at his disposal.17 See S. Coppel, ‘George Salting (1835–1909)’, in Landmarks in Print Collecting (exh. cat.), ed. A. Griffiths, British Museum, London, 1996, pp. 189–203. 

Collecting from Queenstown, physically removed from the main centres of scholarship and from art markets, even those in Australia, meant that Sticht relied heavily on a few select dealers for his purchases of works of art and manuscripts.18 This contrasts with the direct nature of his antiquarian and modern book purchases, which he made largely through personal visits to bookshops in various cities in Australia, particularly Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide, where the Mt Lyell Company had plants or offices. His two principal dealers were Frank E. Godden, an antique dealer in Melbourne, and James Tregaskis, of London. Sticht had sympathetic and successful relationships with both dealers in the long term: he purchased many hundreds of items from them over a period of more than a decade, and in the process developed confidence in his own skills as a connoisseur.19 This achievement was in no small respect due to Sticht’s ability to articulate his thoughts with precision in the extensive written correspondence in which he engaged with his dealers. His relationship with James Tregaskis was the most important that he established in the course of his collecting activities, in terms of the quality, quantity and breadth of the works he purchased from the dealer. Sticht acquired the majority of his European prints and drawings (which have since passed through the Felton Bequest into the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria) through Tregaskis. The London dealer acted as a generous adviser, suggesting whole collections or individual items from catalogues that he anticipated would suit Sticht’s broadness of taste and his relatively narrow income. Items were frequently sent to Australia to be viewed before acquisition, a service Sticht recognised as ‘on this side of the world … a very rare one’.20 Robert Carl Sticht, letter to James Tregaskis, July 1909, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. Tregaskis’s scholarship, which Sticht absorbed through the detailed sale catalogues that the London dealer’s firm, Caxton Head, produced, stimulated Sticht’s interest in the broadest spectrum of early print and manuscript production.21 See A. Block, A Short History of the Principal London Antiquarian Booksellers and Book-Auctioneers, London, 1933.

Sticht was able to form what he referred to as ‘a nucleus’ for his print collection through a major purchase of many hundreds of prints from Tregaskis’s catalogue Old Masters of Engraving (c.1907).22 Robert Carl Sticht, letters to James Tregaskis, March 1910, Freehill, Hollingdale & page, Melbourne. The prints encompassed works by many European artists, including over forty Dürer woodcuts, six etchings by Jusepe Ribera, four etchings by Virgil Solis and seven etchings by Lucas van Leyden. This group purchase was typical of Sticht’s collecting practice, in that it involved a large number of items, purchased at relatively low individual cost and representative of many different artists and periods. Sticht’s great interest in provenances was fed by the contents of the Old Masters of Engraving catalogue, formed from the dispersal of the cabinets of major English collectors such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, William Esdaile and William Sharp. Other, supplemental purchases of prints from Tregaskis over the period 1903 to 1911 allowed Sticht to represent in his collections the history of print production in Continental Europe, and to a lesser extent in England, with some comprehensiveness. 

Sticht also acquired a significant body of original drawings from his London dealer. The earliest purchases of drawings from Tregaskis focused on the English tradition, and included works by Sir David Wilkie and George Romney. In 1905, however, Sticht’s interest moved towards old master European drawings: in this year and the next he added to his collection eighty-eight such items, many of great significance. Some drawings acquired in 1906, such as Canaletto’s Capriccio: a tomb by a Lagoon, 1740s (fig. 3), and Parmigianino’s The death of Orpheus, c.1524–27, are particularly fine examples of these artists’ works, and are now highlights of the National Gallery of Victoria collection. In 1907 Sticht purchased a further forty-six drawings, ranging from works of the Italian Renaissance through to examples from the nineteenth century. In 1908 he added another twenty-four drawings, predominantly English, and in 1911 nineteen Dutch and Italian drawings. 

 

While collecting and shipping prints and drawings in quantity from London, Sticht also purchased European works on the Australian market through Frank E. Godden, who in turn purchased from the prominent Melbourne auction house Gemmell, Tuckett and Company. Many of the works of art that Sticht acquired from Godden had fascinating provenances, having belonged to earlier important Australian private collections, such as those of William Lynch (d. c.1903) and Alfred Felton.23 Felton owned Edward young’s Night Thoughts, illustrated by William Blake, a volume that Sticht would acquire in 1904. Sticht already owned facsimiles of works illustrated by Blake, and Night Thoughts would have interested him not only as an example of this seminal artist’s work, but also as an item of antiquarian interest for his library. Sticht’s copy of Night Thoughts is now one of the treasures of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Blake collection (see note 2 above). 

Although Sticht collected heavily in the areas of European art, he also acquired smaller numbers of Australian prints and drawings, an important and until now unrecognised aspect of his connoisseurship. These works represent an adjunct to items in his personal library that demonstrate his fascination with colonial Australia and with representations of the early years of white settlement. Sticht acquired most of his important Australian works from the dispersal of the collection of nineteenth-century Melbourne dealer James William Hines, purchasing them through Frank Godden in 1907–08. An extensive group of sketches and sketchbooks by Tasmania-based artist John Glover, numbering in total 1472 individual sketches, was one of the most important parts of the Hines collection to come to Sticht, who commented with delight:

I observe I now have all the Glover’s [sic] the [Hines] family held, and feel I might almost start a shop with them, there are so many … The old gentleman these sketches belonged to appears to have known what he was about in collecting them.24 Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Frank E. Godden, May 1908, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. 

 

Sticht also owned works on paper by colonial artists Louis Buvelot, O. R. Campbell, Nicholas Chevalier, John Mather and Arthur Streeton, and framed oils by Australian artists including Henry Burn, Nicholas Chevalier and Tom Roberts, among others. 

Running parallel to Robert Sticht’s deep interest in works of art on paper was his fascination with the development of manuscript and printed-book production. His vast personal library of over five thousand items – a large number of which were directly related to his art and manuscript collecting activities25 Sticht’s large art reference library reflected his scholarly approach to his art collection. Of most significance was the complete set of Adam von Bartsch’s Le Peintre graveur (1803–21), numbering twenty-one volumes, an essential resource for print scholars from the late nineteenth century onwards. Sticht’s book collection was also rich in Australiana, Shakespeare’s plays and commentaries, travel literature, and geological and chemical science. – included many significant antiquarian volumes, as well as early examples of typography and book illustration (fig. 4). His acquisitions of early books and manuscripts matched his purchases of prints and drawings, in terms of his selection of large numbers of affordable items that represented the diversity and breadth of production in these areas. His 1904 purchase of a scrapbook of illuminated manuscript fragments is typical of this approach. Sticht’s incunabula collection received its single largest addition in 1907, with the purchase of an important collection of early printed fragments, numbering over 2300 pieces, through Tregaskis’s catalogue The Genesis, Development and Early Decoration of the Printed Book. Sticht also collected a small number of individually important items, such as the first printed edition of Euclid’s Elementa (1482), one of only three complete copies in the world and now in the State Library of Victoria. 

Sticht took great pride in his early typographical and manuscript collections, forming over a decade a group described on its purchase by the Public Library of Victoria as being of ‘extraordinary value from the educational and historical point of view’.26 E. La Touche Armstrong & R. D. Boys, The Book of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria 1906–1931, Melbourne, 1932, p. 49. Evidence of Sticht’s self-taught scholarship, particularly as it related to the incunabula collections, can be found in his letters to James Tregaskis, in which he discusses with erudition both the technical aspects and the contents of various manuscripts. His interest in early book production extended to bindings and watermarks: in 1904 he purchased from Tregaskis a volume of 490 papers bearing watermarks, assembled in the mid-nineteenth century by Canon von Büllingen. The importance of this volume lies in its historically valuable compilation of an extraordinary variety of different papers used in manuscripts up to 1750. Recently bequeathed to the National Gallery of Victoria from the estate of Helen Jeanette Gibson, widow of Sticht’s son Robert Sticht Jr, the von Büllingen watermark book promises to be an important resource. One visitor to Penghana, quoted years later in a newspaper obituary for Sticht, recalled: 

A visit to [Sticht’s] library [fig. 4] was a pleasure one would not easily forget, but it was a pleasure not easily obtained. Mr Sticht was a connoisseur both in art and literature, and he had a wonderful collection of treasured ‘first editions’ and other rarities from the early days of printing, together with manuscripts dating back from centuries before the art of printing was discovered; but the average visitor would be shown into another library, the walls of which were covered with shelves containing the works of modern authors, particularly books on travel and discovery, in which he was keenly interested. The other library was a sanctuary which he jealously guarded. No one was allowed to see it unless Mr Sticht was satisfied that he was a highly interested party. But once a visitor was accorded the honour of entering the sanctuary he was certain of an interesting couple of hours among books and documents centuries old. The owner would proudly take him through a collection of Caxton bibles, elaborately bound collections of Reformation Tracts … and heavy sheets of parchment containing church music from the 12th century. There was an amused twinkle in the old man’s eye when on one occasion he hauled out before an astonished pressman’s eyes a number of printer’s proof sheets dating back from the time when books were scarce and newspapers hardly thought of. He thoroughly enjoyed his visitors’ keen interest in the documents.27 ‘Robert Sticht, the Man of Lyell: Memories of the “G.M.”, The World: A Labour Paper, Hobart, 3 May 1922. 

An end to collecting

The year 1913 marked the end, after over a decade of collecting, of Sticht’s very active purchasing of works of art and manuscripts. The war years and those immediately after left him with considerably reduced finances, with the situation being exacerbated by the rising costs of educating his three sons. Added to this, Sticht’s managerial responsibilities became increasingly complex after 1910, with the growth of unionism and the occurrence of strikes at Mt Lyell, and with a major mine disaster in 1911 in which many miners lost their lives. The last decade of Sticht’s life was professionally unsettling, as the smelting practice on which he had based his career gradually became outdated and inappropriate for the metallurgical treatment of the ore being mined. Sticht felt trapped in an environment that he had never intended to make his permanent home and, although he received an offer of a professorship in metallurgy at Berkeley in California, he felt that he was ‘not so situated financially as to be able to contemplate such a change of venue’28 Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Robert Sticht Jr, 10 February 1916, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. Despite friendships formed in these later years, such as that with George Swinburne, a participant on the Board of Directors of the Mt Lyell mine who shared some of his cultural interests, 29 Swinburne was also a Trustee of the Public Library and National Gallery of Victoria from 1910, and probably had some influence with respect to the presentation of the Sticht Collection for purchase by the Felton Bequests Committee. E. H. Sugden & F. W. Eggleston, George Swinburne: A Biography, Sydney, 1931, p. 425, note: [Swinburne] was naturally extremely interested in [the] sociological activities [at Queenstown] and he relished very much his visits to the locality … [C]ommon interests existed [between Swinburne and Robert Sticht] not only in technical and scientific work but in artistic matters’. Sticht felt increasingly isolated.30 See Sugden & Eggleston, p. 425. He wrote in 1918 to his eldest and closest son with some despair: ‘Intellectually I am a lonely man’.31 Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Robert Sticht Jr, 28 October 1918, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne.

It is likely that in these years Sticht’s collections came to have even greater importance to him than in the heady years of collecting, perhaps acting as a small window onto the wider intellectual world, of which he felt himself less and less a part. After a decade of dedicated art collecting, Sticht possessed a collection of European, including English, prints, old master drawings, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century oil and watercolour paintings,32 A large proportion of these paintings were acquired in the period 1903–07, through Frank Godden, although Sticht continued to acquire the occasional work in this area in the years up to 1921. as well as Australian drawings and paintings, conservatively valued at over £4000. His specialist library, consisting of manuscripts, incunabula, bibliographical rarities and antiquities, antiquarian works, Australiana and editions de luxe, was valued at £2805, while his general library was valued at a further £2475.33 Sticht’s insurance schedule on the contents of Penghana in 1911 includes valuations for the following: ‘Engravings on copper and steel, and woodcuts, £425; Etchings (on copper) and the like £250; Collection of Old Master Etchings £750; Drawings on paper by Old Masters £950; … Oil paintings [£1037]; Watercolour paintings [£1020]; Art, antiquarian works, Australiana, bibliographical rarities and antiquities, incunabula, edition de luxe, manuscripts, and the like, £2805’ (insurance schedule, 8 September 1911, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne). Penghana was now a private museum for its owner, every suitable wall hung with oil paintings, watercolours, miniatures, or anthropological items (fig. 5). Many rooms in Sticht’s house were lined with shelves for books, and for solander boxes and portfolios for incunabula, prints and drawings, and other rare or fragile works.34 Thirteen of the portfolios are extant, housing Sticht fragments, including his collection of title pages, in the State Library of Victoria’s Rare Books Collection. Despite this attempt at order, Sticht wrote:

(Everything is so jumbled up in this overstocked house (I mean only my own ‘treasures’!) that things are not easy to get at, and if you as much as touch any one thing a pile of others may tumble about your head.35 Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Mr Robertson, November 1911, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. 

 

To identify his volumes with his personal stamp, Sticht commissioned three bookplates in 1909 from the Melbourne company Osboldstone and Attkins. Sticht’s meticulous attention to detail, his intuitive understanding of the nuances of print production, and his close identification with his print collection are clearly illustrated through this commission: he supplied for reproduction two favourite woodcuts from his own collection, carefully stipulating the lettering and borders to be added, and noting the importance of retaining the quality of the originals in the final product.36 Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Messrs Osboldstone & Attkins, Melbourne, 22 October 1909, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. Sticht also commissioned Osboldstone and Attkins to find a contemporary artist to produce a bookplate that was ‘thoroughly modern’ for his more contemporary volumes.37 Sticht letter, 22 October 1909. The artist found was prominent Melbourne etcher John Shirlow (1869–1936). 

In the last year of his life, already suffering from a malignant cancer of the kidney, Sticht committed himself to the task of making a catalogue of his art, manuscript, book, and ethnographic and anthropological collections. Typically meticulous and scientific in his approach, he had always intended to make such a catalogue, a task that had eluded him twelve years earlier, when he wrote to his friends at Angus and Robertson in Sydney: 

                                                                                                                                                       I wish I had a catalogue of my library! In this benighted place there is no one to do the work (even badly) for me, and it is a hopeless idea – with the comparatively little leisure I have – to ever expect to catalogue my books, etc, myself.38 Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Messrs Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 12 September 1909, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. 

 

An enormous undertaking, the catalogue when completed numbered six closely handwritten, 180-page volumes and a smaller volume listing the ethnographic purchases.39 The rigour of Sticht’s final work impressed contemporary commentators, a writer for the Melbourne Herald noting after Sticht’s death in 1922 that the library ‘was wonderfully catalogued’ (Herald, Melbourne, 1922). The six volumes are part of the Sticht archives held by Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. Of great significance to our understanding of Sticht’s patterns of purchasing, these volumes note in many instances details of purchase and sometimes Sticht’s indications of the relative ‘quality’ of the individual items.

The legacy

Robert Carl Sticht died on 30 April 1922, at age sixty-five, in Launceston’s public hospital.40 Sticht was cremated at Springvale Crematorium, near Melbourne, with no religious service, according to his wishes, and his ashes were interred at Box Hill Cemetery. His death was widely mourned in his community, and many tributes were published, both in Tasmania and in Melbourne and Sydney newspapers. In a piece titled ‘An ‘Old Mining Writer’s Appreciation’, the Bulletin noted: 

The great qualities of Sticht were his philosophy and his application of scientific precepts to the business he ran. His philosophy made him happy and contented in a rain-riven spot like Queenstown. It carried him through the rows and irritants inseparable from a task such as his, and it taught him to value his home life as his most precious possession.41 ‘An Old Mining Writer’s Appreciation’, Bulletin, 11 May 1922, n.p. 

 

After his father’s death, Robert Sticht Jr had the task of sorting through the many collections prior to the family’s vacating Penghana for the Mt Lyell Company’s next General Manager.42 Marion Sticht had been ill for some years at the time of her husband’s death, and outlived him by only two years. Relying heavily on advice from George Swinburne regarding dispersal of the collections, Robert Jr invited Albert Spencer, proprietor of the newly established Hill of Content bookshop in Bourke Street, Melbourne, and a few months later William H. Gill, Melbourne art dealer and valuer, to view the collections in Queenstown and to advise on their sale. Robert Jr wrote to Swinburne in October 1922: ‘Gill … recommended that the collections of drawings, engravings, etc be offered to the Felton Bequest … Gill was highly impressed by these collections and considered that the [National Gallery of Victoria] would find them valuable for their newly founded “print room”‘.43 Robert Sticht Jr, letter to George Swinburne, 3 October 1922, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. This advice was taken, and within a month the incunabula and European prints and drawings from Sticht’s collection had been passed by the Felton Bequest Trustees for purchase, for a total of £4600.44 Charles Bye, Chairman, Felton Bequests Committee, letter to Chief Public Librarian, 28 November 1922, MSS Trustees Minute Books, vol. 8, 1917–23, State Library of Victoria. This letter was received at the meeting of the Gallery’s Trustees of 30 November 1922. It ‘authorised the purchase of the Sticht collection for £4600’.

The presence of parts of the Sticht Collection at the Gallery and in the Public Library of Victoria no doubt helped to further Sticht’s posthumous reputation on the mainland as a collector of some note. The items that came under the aegis of the Library were to receive quite a degree of scholarly attention, largely due to the work over many years of librarian Albert Broadbent Foxcroft.45 In 1933 and 1936 Foxcroft published two separate catalogues of parts of the Library collection; these volumes featured extended commentaries on the Sticht manuscript and incunabula collections as a whole (A. B. Foxcroft, A Catalogue of English Books and Fragments from 1477 to 1535 in the Public Library of Victoria, Melbourne, 1933; and Catalogue of Fifteenth Century Books and Fragments in the Public Library of Victoria, Melbourne, 1936). The prints and drawings would on the whole receive less such attention, with only brief references to Sticht appearing in published catalogues or commentaries on the Gallery’s collections. An ongoing interest in Sticht as a collector has, however, been maintained by curators in the Gallery’s Department of Prints and Drawings through the decades. 

At the time of the dispersal of parts of Sticht’s collections to the Gallery and Library, the Sticht family retained a portion of his holdings, including the John Glover sketches, Canon von Büllingen’s watermarks volume, some oil and watercolour paintings, antiquarian books and most of the indigenous collections.46 Some of the Australian items from Sticht’s collections, such as a John Glover sketchbook, sketches by Samuel Prout and by John Skinner Prout, various manuscripts relating to colonial Tasmania, and more than one hundred indigenous cultural items, have been given by Sticht’s descendants and relatives by marriage to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, in recent decades. The National Gallery of Victoria has also received a number of items from the family in recent years, including the Canon von Büllingen watermarks volume. 

In October 1922 Albert Spencer of the Hill of Content bookshop entered an agreement with Robert Sticht Jr to sell his father’s vast bibliographic collections. Spencer was given three years to sell the volumes, with the stipulation that any unsold items be returned to the Sticht family after that period had expired. Spencer advertised the sale of the Sticht library in Melbourne newspapers, claiming: ‘No library has ever given such pleasure in Melbourne, and I certainly remember nothing like it during my long Sydney experience … [it has] no “double” in this part of the world’.47 A. H. Spencer, The Hill of Content: Books, Art, Music, People, Melbourne, 1959, p. 8. Spencer was also to write with great enthusiasm about the quality and extent of the collections, when he compiled his memoirs, The Hill of Content: Books, Art, Music, People, published in 1959. 

A small selection of thirty-one framed works from the Sticht collections was auctioned on 8 December 1922, at the Melbourne auction house of Leonard Joel; this group included watercolours by Buvelot and Chevalier, and oils by J. A. Turner and popular landscape artist Charles Rolando. On 27 April 1923, in conjunction with the Fine Art Society, Joel’s presented for sale the remaining works of art from Sticht’s collections. This larger sale, unlike the first, focused exclusively on works of art, and therefore attracted significantly more attention from the press. Held at the Fine Art Society’s Galleries, in Melbourne, the auction consisted of 182 items, predominantly European paintings, with a smaller selection of Australian material. Commenting on the sale, the painter and critic Alexander Colquhoun noted that: 

Mr Sticht does not appear to have been greatly interested as a collector in the work of the younger generation of painter, but leant, rather, to men of earlier periods, such as Constable, Moreland and David Cox. Among the Australians Mr Tom Roberts ranks as a mere juvenile as compared with Louis Buvelot, von Guerard and Nicholas Chevalier. A picture which claims attention on retrospective and historical grounds is ‘Jolimont, near Melbourne Cricket Ground’, painted about 1870 by Henry Burn … Most of the pictures are representative of the lesser British and European masters … before all, a charming little landscape in oils by Constable … The tendency of the late collector was reminiscent rather than progressive, but his selections were made with a discriminating taste which shows the knowledge of the true connoisseur.48 A. Colquhoun, ‘Art of Earlier Years: Collection on View’, Herald, Melbourne, 25 April 1923.
 

 

Although the Australasian noted that the sale ‘aroused considerable interest among art connoisseurs’,49 ‘Robert Sticht Collection’, Australasian, 5 May 1923. it raised only £1000 and was not a financial success. 

The Sticht Collection remains an isolated and unusual phenomenon in the context of Australian collecting of prints and manuscripts, as the confluence of factors that contributed to its formation is possibly unique. A US citizen with European cultural roots, humanist beliefs, and a scientifically creative mind, who was transplanted to a culturally remote rural Australian locality, Robert Sticht brought the world of artistic and scholarly endeavour to himself through his collections of books, manuscripts, prints and drawings. Sticht’s collecting activities were marked by individuality and intellectual curiosity, which ensured that his collecting practices – which resulted directly from a passion to discover, explain, illustrate and prompt investigation into different histories through the cultural artefacts that were their products – did not rely on local models. Through his collections Sticht sought to create a microcosm of western culture, in what was for him something of a cultural vacuum. The Sticht holdings in Victoria’s state institutions, for which we are much the richer, are the legacy of this deep and productive passion. 

 Heather Lowe, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne (in 1997).

Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to Dr Christopher Marshall of the University of Melbourne; to Brian Hubber, Rare Books Librarian, State Library of Victoria; to Irena Zdanowicz and Sonia Dean, of the National Gallery of Victoria; and to Robin Parsons of Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne, for providing generous access to the Sticht papers held by that firm.   

 

Notes 

1     D. Lindsay, The Felton Bequest: An Historical Record, 1904–1959, Melbourne, 1963. For the Seymour Haden Collection, see I. Zdanowicz, ‘Prints of Fortune: Hubert Herkomer’s 1891–92 Etching Purchases for the National Gallery of Victoria’, Art Bulletin of Victoria, no. 33, 1993, pp. 1–17. 

2     Published Sticht items include: the Horae ad usum Sarum (Julian Notary), 1500 (in J. Gartner, Miniature Incunabulam, Melbourne, 1938), and parts of a scrapbook of collated manuscript fragments (in M. M. Manion & V F. Vines, Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts in Australian Collections, Melbourne, 1984), from the State Library of Victoria; and Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, illustrated by William Blake (in M. Butlin & T. Gott, William Blake in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, The Robert Raynor Publications in Prints and Drawings, no. 3, Melbourne, 1989, pp. 157–72), and a number of prints by Albrecht Dürer (in I. Zdanowicz (ed.), Albrecht Dürer in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, The Robert Raynor Publications in Prints and Drawings, no. 5, Melbourne, 1994), from the National Gallery of Victoria. 

3     Rev. J. K. Robertson, transcript of memorial service for Robert Sticht at Springvale Crematorium, 2 May 1922, State Archives of Tasmania, Hobart, NS 167/5. 

 4     Pyritic smelting was a potentially cost-saving ore-reduction technique that utilised the heat produced by the combustion of the pyrites iron and sulphur, obviating the need for expensive coke supplements. 

5     Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company management report, 8 December 1922, State Archives of Tasmania, Hobart, NS 167/2.  

6     ‘People We Know’, Punch, Melbourne, 8 August 1907, p. 184. 

7     The holiday was planned to include an extended visit to Continental Europe and to England, but this idea was abandoned when, on the eve of the Stichts’ departure from the USA, war was declared in Europe.  

8     Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Professor E. D. Peters, Chair of Metallurgy, Harvard University, 22 October 1907, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. Robert and Marion Sticht retained their US citizenship throughout their lives. 

9     Sticht letter, 22 October 1907.  

10     Sticht’s zither, on which he often performed, is now in the collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart. 

11     The township of Penghana, which had formed around the base of the newly erected smelters, was razed by bushfire in 1896 and was never rebuilt. Instead, the town’s population re-established itself a few kilometres away, as the settlement of Queenstown, which was quickly to become the centre of the Mt Lyell district.  

12     Alfred Deakin visited Tasmania on a ‘semi-political tour’, which included a visit to the west coast and Queenstown on 2 March 1909. His Excellency Sir Francis Alexander Newdigate Newdegate, the Governor of Tasmania, and his party, stayed at Penghana in February 1918. Robert and Marion Sticht also stayed on at least one occasion with the Governor at Government House in Hobart, and were actually there on the night that the Armistice was declared in 1918. 

13     Sticht’s collection of what he termed ‘South Sea curios’, and other indigenous items, had in fact begun prior to this, in 1895, when he was still resident in the United States. He began to acquire Melanesian and Aboriginal Australian objects, in quantity, from Melbourne and Sydney dealers, and from friends, in 1899. 

14     Sticht letter, 22 October 1907. 

15     Sticht letter, 22 October 1907.  

16     See J. Poynter, Russell Grimwade, Melbourne, 1967, p. 37. 

17     See S. Coppel, ‘George Salting (1835–1909)’, in Landmarks in Print Collecting (exh. cat.), ed. A. Griffiths, British Museum, London, 1996, pp. 189–203.  

18     This contrasts with the direct nature of his antiquarian and modern book purchases, which he made largely through personal visits to bookshops in various cities in Australia, particularly Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide, where the Mt Lyell Company had plants or offices. 

19     This achievement was in no small respect due to Sticht’s ability to articulate his thoughts with precision in the extensive written correspondence in which he engaged with his dealers.  

 20     Robert Carl Sticht, letter to James Tregaskis, July 1909, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne.  

21     See A. Block, A Short History of the Principal London Antiquarian Booksellers and Book-Auctioneers, London, 1933. 

22     Robert Carl Sticht, letters to James Tregaskis, March 1910, Freehill, Hollingdale & page, Melbourne.  

23     Felton owned Edward young’s Night Thoughts, illustrated by William Blake, a volume that Sticht would acquire in 1904. Sticht already owned facsimiles of works illustrated by Blake, and Night Thoughts would have interested him not only as an example of this seminal artist’s work, but also as an item of antiquarian interest for his library. Sticht’s copy of Night Thoughts is now one of the treasures of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Blake collection (see note 2 above). 

24     Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Frank E. Godden, May 1908, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne.  

25     Sticht’s large art reference library reflected his scholarly approach to his art collection. Of most significance was the complete set of Adam von Bartsch’s Le Peintre graveur (1803–21), numbering twenty-one volumes, an essential resource for print scholars from the late nineteenth century onwards. Sticht’s book collection was also rich in Australiana, Shakespeare’s plays and commentaries, travel literature, and geological and chemical science. 

26     E. La Touche Armstrong & R. D. Boys, The Book of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria 1906–1931, Melbourne, 1932, p. 49.  

27     ‘Robert Sticht, the Man of Lyell: Memories of the “G.M.”, The World: A Labour Paper, Hobart, 3 May 1922. 

28     Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Robert Sticht Jr, 10 February 1916, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne.  

29     Swinburne was also a Trustee of the Public Library and National Gallery of Victoria from 1910, and probably had some influence with respect to the presentation of the Sticht Collection for purchase by the Felton Bequests Committee. E. H. Sugden & F. W. Eggleston, George Swinburne: A Biography, Sydney, 1931, p. 425, note: [Swinburne] was naturally extremely interested in [the] sociological activities [at Queenstown] and he relished very much his visits to the locality … [C]ommon interests existed [between Swinburne and Robert Sticht] not only in technical and scientific work but in artistic matters’. 

30    See Sugden & Eggleston, p. 425.  

31     Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Robert Sticht Jr, 28 October 1918, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. 

32     A large proportion of these paintings were acquired in the period 1903–07, through Frank Godden, although Sticht continued to acquire the occasional work in this area in the years up to 1921.  

33     Sticht’s insurance schedule on the contents of Penghana in 1911 includes valuations for the following: ‘Engravings on copper and steel, and woodcuts, £425; Etchings (on copper) and the like £250; Collection of Old Master Etchings £750; Drawings on paper by Old Masters £950; … Oil paintings [£1037]; Watercolour paintings [£1020]; Art, antiquarian works, Australiana, bibliographical rarities and antiquities, incunabula, edition de luxe, manuscripts, and the like, £2805’ (insurance schedule, 8 September 1911, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne). 

34     Thirteen of the portfolios are extant, housing Sticht fragments, including his collection of title pages, in the State Library of Victoria’s Rare Books Collection.  

35     Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Mr Robertson, November 1911, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. 

36     Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Messrs Osboldstone & Attkins, Melbourne, 22 October 1909, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne.  

37     Sticht letter, 22 October 1909. 

38     Robert Carl Sticht, letter to Messrs Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 12 September 1909, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne.  

39     The rigour of Sticht’s final work impressed contemporary commentators, a writer for the Melbourne Herald noting after Sticht’s death in 1922 that the library ‘was wonderfully catalogued’ (Herald, Melbourne, 1922). The six volumes are part of the Sticht archives held by Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. 

40     Sticht was cremated at Springvale Crematorium, near Melbourne, with no religious service, according to his wishes, and his ashes were interred at Box Hill Cemetery.  

41    ‘An Old Mining Writer’s Appreciation’, Bulletin, 11 May 1922, n.p. 

42     Marion Sticht had been ill for some years at the time of her husband’s death, and outlived him by only two years.  

43     Robert Sticht Jr, letter to George Swinburne, 3 October 1922, Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Melbourne. 

44     Charles Bye, Chairman, Felton Bequests Committee, letter to Chief Public Librarian, 28 November 1922, MSS Trustees Minute Books, vol. 8, 1917–23, State Library of Victoria. This letter was received at the meeting of the Gallery’s Trustees of 30 November 1922. It ‘authorised the purchase of the Sticht collection for £4600’.  

45     In 1933 and 1936 Foxcroft published two separate catalogues of parts of the Library collection; these volumes featured extended commentaries on the Sticht manuscript and incunabula collections as a whole (A. B. Foxcroft, A Catalogue of English Books and Fragments from 1477 to 1535 in the Public Library of Victoria, Melbourne, 1933; and Catalogue of Fifteenth Century Books and Fragments in the Public Library of Victoria, Melbourne, 1936). 

46     Some of the Australian items from Sticht’s collections, such as a John Glover sketchbook, sketches by Samuel Prout and by John Skinner Prout, various manuscripts relating to colonial Tasmania, and more than one hundred indigenous cultural items, have been given by Sticht’s descendants and relatives by marriage to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, in recent decades. The National Gallery of Victoria has also received a number of items from the family in recent years, including the Canon von Büllingen watermarks volume.  

47     A. H. Spencer, The Hill of Content: Books, Art, Music, People, Melbourne, 1959, p. 8. 

48     A. Colquhoun, ‘Art of Earlier Years: Collection on View’, Herald, Melbourne, 25 April 1923.  

49     ‘Robert Sticht Collection’, Australasian, 5 May 1923.