fig. 1
John Rogers Herbert

In November 2014, in the National Gallery of Victoria’s storage facility in North Melbourne, a large canvas was unrolled for the first time in more than twenty-five years. It had been rolled up since the 1940s, when it was considered a large encumbrance upon the Gallery and, as I will show, a reminder of an embarrassing age no longer fashionable. Yet when it was initially unveiled in 1878, it was the pride of Melbourne: an honourable link to the centre of power in Westminster and a fascinating glimpse into an exotic culture. Unrolled at last, its power to fascinate has not diminished with time.

Not long after it was founded, the Colony of Victoria was anxious to make its mark on the cultural world. The State Library opened in 1854, and as it took shape, a picture collection grew alongside it. In 1861 this officially became the National Gallery of Victoria. Sir Redmond Barry, a judge of the Supreme Court, was a senior Trustee of the project. He wished to use the new gallery to ‘introduce a new stimulus for intellectual refinement’.1Sir Redmond Barry, as quoted in Leonard B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria, 1861–1968: A Search for a Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1970, p. 9. However, he and the other Trustees were unsure of how the colonists would take to a gallery of art. They were wary of purchasing original pictures, for fear ‘the first impression produced upon our visitors may be apathy or dissatisfaction’.2ibid. For several years the government of Victoria purchased mostly copies and photographs of great works, alongside a few modern pictures by mainly unknown artists. This was done with little outside assistance; most works were acquired by the colony’s Agent General in London and Alfred Taddy Thomson, a former Australian pioneer.3The commissioners did receive some outside help. Sir Charles Eastlake, artist and one of the founders of the National Gallery in London, assisted with purchasing pictures and giving advice. However, his early death prevented him from having a larger influence on the collection.

In 1870 Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, the Chairman of trustees for the NGV, wrote to Mr John Rogers Herbert, R. A.:

The Trustees of our National Gallery are very anxious to induce a great artist, and a competent critic of art, to guide their future choice; and they have resolved to request you and Mr. Ruskin, for the sake of the multitude of your countrymen living in these Australian colonies, to do us this favour.4Annual Report National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1870–71, pp. xxiv–xxv, Victorian Public Records Office (VPRS) 1074/5.

John Ruskin was well known, both in his lifetime and now, for his art criticism, which heavily influenced generations of artists and collectors. Mr Herbert, on the other hand, has fallen into total obscurity.

John Rogers Herbert was a Royal Academician, an established and well-respected member of the British art scene. He had been a successful painter of portraits and romantic genre subjects until the early 1840s, when his conversion to Catholicism changed the tone of his art. He then became known for historical scenes showing the religious history of Britain and his meditations on biblical subjects set in the context of authentic Middle Eastern landscape, and most famous for his monumental murals decorating the Peer’s Robing Room in the House of Lords at Westminster. Herbert’s work was a major influence on the young Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and he was on the Committee of Selection for the South Kensington Museum, now known as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.5John Rogers Herbert was the subject of my doctoral thesis (Nancy Langham, “‘The Splendour and Beauty of Truth’: John Rogers Herbert, R.A. (1810–1890)”, PhD, Oxford Brookes University, 2012). He continues to be the focus of my research.

With this resumé, it is unsurprising that Sir Charles Duffy would ask for Herbert’s assistance in purchasing pictures for the new gallery.6Sir Charles had known Herbert for many years, first meeting him in London at the house of Sir Frederic Lucas, the Catholic orator and founder of The Tablet. ibid. Herbert went on to select eight paintings, including, unusually, one by a woman artist: Edith Courtauld. However, the intended purchasing partnership with Ruskin did not go to plan. The two men were both of earnest, forthright opinions and found it hard to get on. In the end, they independently chose various works of art for the Gallery.7Report of the Sectional Committee of the National Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1872, VPRS 1074/5, p. 20. This personality clash was foreseen by some. Alfred Thomson remarked:

Your misgivings on the subject of the ‘entente cordiale’ between Messrs Herbert and Ruskin are I imagine likely to be justified by the result. I suspect that Mr Cashel Hoey was a trifle over sanguine when he assured me that these gentlemen had agreed to act together, for I understand their action in the selection of pictures is quite distinct.8 Alfred Taddy Thomson, letter to Sir Redmond Barry, 25 Aug. 1870, State Library of Victoria, MS8380. Thomson was dubious from the beginning, but acknowledged the potential of the pairing: ‘If these gentlemen can be induced to act together, their great ability, judgment, experience and influence, will be an ample guarantee to the colony for the judicious expenditure of the funds voted for the promotion of the Fine Arts’(Annual Report National Gallery of Victoria, 1870–71, p. xxvii).

In the same note asking for Herbert’s assistance, Duffy also requests a copy of Herbert’s parliament fresco, King Lear disinheriting Cordelia. Though this does not seem to have been acted upon, he may later have approached him through George Vernon, the Agent General, about an original commission. Herbert’s largest mural in the House of Lords, Moses Descending with the Tables of the Law, had taken him more than fifteen years of effort, and was finally completed in 1864. Today it has deteriorated considerably (see fig. 2).9Waterglass, or stereochrome, was a relatively new technique. Watercolour was painted on a prepared surface and then sprayed with silicate gel to protect it. It was done with oil brushes, and provided much more detail than traditional fresco. It was thought to be extremely durable, as there had been several outdoor experiments in Berlin. When Herbert’s Moses (which was a slight variation on this technique) was unveiled in London the Revue des Deux Mondes declared: ‘Soon our streets will become a museum of paintings’ (1 Sep. 1864, p. 256).

Herbert’s original commission for the Peer’s Robing Room in the House of Lords consisted of nine frescoes, the subjects of which were to be from the Old Testament, and had to do with law and judgement (appropriate for that room, which is where certain matters of law are decided). To prepare the large work, which measured 3.2 x 6.4 metres, Herbert did several cartoons and studies for the frescoes. He travelled to the East in1857, and his studies of the topography of Sinai, and the local peoples and costumes, directly contribute to his Moses.10These studies can now be found in the V&A and the Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Duffy originally requested that Herbert paint on canvas the single figure of Moses, for the price of £700. Herbert responded with another idea. He had a full-scale cartoon from the original commission; he proposed filling this in in oil, therefore giving the gallery a copy of the original work for £1700. He explains why this might be desirable in a letter of 1872:

As the matter stands I have to paint (and I shall have pleasure in doing so) the single figure of the Moses, same size for £700. But as I have in my studio the finished work from which the Westminster one was done, it occurs to me that I can make that in oil in every respect  equal with the one in House of Lords – so that at Melbourne you might say ‘we have it’ every bit as much as it is at Westminster. It is the same size, and I believe will be as durable.

Herbert goes on to explain his price and proposed timescale:

The price I received from our Government was £5,000 – and I was paid £3,000 for a duplicate in oil ¼ size for Berlin. Now I propose, instead of the fragment of about one fifth at £700, I should finish the whole subject in oil for £1,700 to be finished the year after next or spring following.

He also suggests that this full copy of Moses will be significant for the Melbourne collection:

Perhaps I might say that I do not indeed suggest this from money consideration but truly because I should like to have a mark in the history of your art.11John Rogers Herbert, letter to Mr. Wardell (most likely William Wilkinson Wardell (1823 – 1899)), March 1872, VPRS 04363/9.

These arguments must have persuaded Mr Duffy and the commissioners. They agreed to the larger Moses and a contract was signed with Herbert in December 1872.12Report of the Sectional Committee of the National Gallery, 1872, p. 24.

The commissioners were excited about such an important painting. In their report of 1872 they enthused:

The Committee are rejoiced to know that Australia will thus secure a faithful copy, from the pencil of the master who produced it, of one of the most powerful examples of the modern English school of art.13ibid., p. 20.

There was even talk about reconstructing the Peer’s Robing Room in the Gallery, in order for the work to have the same impact. Herbert was ecstatic:

It was hardly in my hopes that the new picture could be seen so perfectly as in the palace – but I will stake my head, that … the public of Mel-bourne will be content with the scene – and may I say it, with my effort in their service.14John Rogers Herbert, letter to Sir Charles Duffy, 11 July 1873, VPRS 04363/9.

This decorative scheme proved prohibitively expensive, but by purchasing the large canvas, the Victorian Government was attempting to contextualise themselves as a colonial centre of power: related to, but separate from, their overseers at Westminster. The Moses had many layers of meaning in this regard. Not only was the original situated in the House of Lords, it was a favourite of Prince Albert, who until his death in 1861 oversaw the artistic decoration of the New Palace of Westminster. Mr Herbert was well connected, being an old friend of Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone and other political and social influencers. Therefore this painting had clear connections to power in its location and admirers. The subject itself, Moses giving the law to the Israelites, could be interpreted as a justification of the rule of the State. Or, perhaps more grandly, that the British Empire was ‘chosen by God’ as the Israelites were. However, neither of these nationalistic interpretations is the true subject of Moses.

Herbert’s picture is a mixture of historic re-creation and subtle symbolism. His object was to give the viewer an experience of being at the scene as it happened. The point is to transport the audience in time and space, and let the mural speak about the nature of law and its relationship to the nature of God. We can see the intricacy of thought Herbert put into every detail, each containing literary, spiritual and moral meanings.

Accurate, naturalistic details enable the viewer to engage with the holy scene. The mountains and landscape reflect the sunlight with brilliant colours. It was not merely the shape of the mountains that Herbert wished to capture in his rendering of the scene, but also a feeling of the heat of the desert, worked from life in order to convey the reality of a landscape so unlike that of England. This atmospheric effect was greatly admired by the French, and an enthusiastic description can be found in La Revue des Deux Mondes:

The general tone is luminous, and I don’t know of a brighter picture … it all recalls the Orient … You forget you are in London, you believe yourself to be in the desert.15Le ton général est lumineux, et je ne sache pas de tableau plus clair … tout rappelle l’Orient … On oublie qu’on est à Londres, et on se croit dans le désert’, La Revue des Deux Mondes, 1 Sep. 1864, p. 254.

It is unfortunate that the current state of the London mural does not allow a modern viewer to see the colours as they were intended;16The waterglass began to fade within ten years of completion, owing to the deterioration of the silicate gel. Several restoration and cleaning attempts were to no avail. Today the mural is faded, but retains some of its force. however, the two copies of Moses can give an idea of Herbert’s intended intensity of colour, and how he deftly used it to draw the viewer into the narrative. One is a quarter-size oil currently in Hamburg, dated 1867 (fig. 3), and the other is the full-scale finished cartoon in Melbourne (fig. 1).

The whole composition is full of reminders of the real purpose of the Mosaic law, its meaning for a nineteenth-century audience, and above all, the character of God. These are mostly conveyed through the figures and their individual reactions to Moses and, through him, the divine.

The narrative is from the book of Exodus, chapter 34. Moses had gone up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. When he finally came down he found the entire Israeli camp in the middle of a huge orgy, worshipping a golden calf. In his anger, Moses threw the tablets down and broke them. After rebuke and bloody retribution, he ascended the mountain a second time. Here we witness Moses’s second return with a new set of tablets. As one would expect from traditional depictions of this scene, the usual cast of characters is present. The main crowd of quite contrite figures on the far left includes Moses’s brother Aaron and Joshua, and the group of figures on the right are the faithful followers of Moses who rejoice at his return, including his sister Miriam and Caleb.

Yet this is not merely a biblical illustration. Herbert includes many symbolic figures to communicate a deeper, subtle message about ‘law’ to those in the House of Lords. Just behind the main crowd is a woman carrying a baby in a basket, recalling Moses’s salvation from the Hebrew infanticide (Exodus 2:1–10). Herbert would have placed this figure in the midst of this moment to remind the viewer of a larger, divine plan that had preceded the giving of the law. On the other side of the fresco a woman gives a drink to her thirsty child; this is reminiscent of the provision God had made for the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 16 and 17). Plan and provision frame the narrative of the law.

In a note to Duffy in Melbourne, Herbert writes that the arch of figures at the bottom are symbolic of the human experience of faith, noting the ‘human arch over door indicates that the human family is bound to growth by the keystone of the … Law’.17John Rogers Herbert, letter to Sir Charles Duffy, 11 July 1873, VPRS 04363/9.

The figures represent the various stages of humanity’s interaction with God and the evolution of that interaction as wisdom and knowledge increases. On the far left is a woman with three children at different stages of life. These three children represent spiritual immaturity: the unconscious selfishness of the suckling baby, the inborn sinful nature of the toddler playing with a thorn, and the innate fear of God represented by the youth, who seems frightened by Moses.

The next figure is a shepherd who has taken a Nazirite vow.18Athenaeum, 25 June 1864, p. 875. The vow is described in the book of Numbers (6:1–21), and includes the cutting of hair as an offering to God. The man represents an acknowledgement of God and a desire to serve him through sacrifice. The third figure is a Levite, struck with awe and wonder at the sight of Moses. Levites were the Israeli tribe in charge of the temple, carrying out duties of the priesthood. In this context, he would represent worship, or a worshipful attitude to God. Finally, the forth figure is a shepherd. He is half naked and approaches Moses on bended knee. He is the personification of spiritual maturity, approaching with confidence, yet aware that he has nothing to offer (as illustrated by his empty water container).

Herbert has this group of figures read like a chart of spiritual evolution: starting with the immaturity of sin and fear, moving through rash vows of service to awesome wonder, then finally to a humble acknowledgement of God’s true nature. In the original work they centre round the ‘keystone’ of the door. Uniquely in the Melbourne version, Herbert has filled that space with another stone – one that had the original tablets broken upon it and is stained with the blood of the punishment that followed.

The group of figures on the right of the painting also includes the artist Bezalel kneeling in the foreground (Exodus 31:2–3). He was commissioned by God to make beautiful, holy things for the temple. Bezalel is not a major figure in this episode of the Exodus, but his presence among the crowd must have been a very personal statement by Herbert.

One is almost tempted to see a self-portrait in the figure of Bezalel, and though Herbert may not have drawn his face into the composition, he was certainly aware of his similar role as communicator of the sacred through his work in the Peers Robing Room. Herbert possessed an earnest desire to edify, instruct and encourage all who encountered his art, and he passionately believed in its transforming power:

I conceive if the gaols were painted with subjects which would impress the criminals with the importance of a good life, you have an opportunity there to give them stern and grand lessons … Paint your hospitals for the sick with great subjects of miraculous cures from the Gospels, and you help the physician. Paint your courts of justice, so as to impress the witnesses with the abhorrence of falsehood, and you help the judge.19John Rogers Herbert, as quoted in Royal Academy of Arts Commission, ‘Report of the commissioners into the present position of the Royal Academy, 1863’, Irish University Press Series of British Parliamentary Papers, vol. 5. Irish University Press, Shannon, 1970, p. 520.

The connection of these symbolic figures with the biblical narrative creates a powerful scene. In fact, the Melbourne painting has even more of these elements than the other versions, Herbert having added, according to The Argus, ‘many a subtle suggestion and telling touch’ to enrich the meaning of the painting for the colonists.20The Argus, 19 Jan. 1878, p. 9.

When the whole painting is read figuratively, many themes emerge for contemplation. The symbolic figures contextualise the law – it is inside, not outside God’s love and mercy. They are also a reminder that understanding and keeping the law is an impossible task without a real, mature understanding of God. The narrative is locked into a specific place and time, and yet transcends it; Herbert intended for Moses to be looking straight into the face of Christ Preaching on the Mount on the opposite wall of the Peer’s Robing Room. This would, according to Herbert, highlight Christological aspects of the scene: connecting ‘the law of Fear’ to ‘the law of Love’ and further underscoring the element of mercy when contemplating matters of law.21John Rogers Herbert, letter to John Bright, 28 Oct. 1864, British Library 43388 f212.

The viewing public in London, understandably, did not readily comprehend all of the deep theological symbolism. However, this over-subtlety of symbolic elements did not prevent Moses from being popularly accepted as a great work of art, even if that popularity was short-lived. When first unveiled in London, William H. Gregory M. P. declared it ‘one of the most noble specimens of modern art’.22William H. Gregory, as quoted in Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, Cornelius Buck, London, 1864, vol. 175, p. 425. Queen Victoria greatly admired the picture. According to Herbert, when she saw the oil study for Moses she covered her eyes with her hands and exclaimed, ‘Oh Mr. Herbert, it seems as if I could see the whole scene enacted’.23John Rogers Herbert, as quoted in The Pall Mall Gazette, 1 Aug. 1886, p. 1. Prince Albert had also admired the picture, and took advantage of his position among the commissioners to drop by often to see its progress. When it was finally finished in 1864, after Albert’s death, Victoria noted seeing it in her journal:

Drove to the Hse of Lords, where I was … taken to see Herbert’s splendid Fresco of Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law, the cartoon of which, I had been with dearest Albert to see in Mr Herbert’s house in the spring of 1858, & in which he had taken such immense interest, constantly going to watch the progress … Mr Herbert was much affected in telling me how broken hearted he had been in not being able show my beloved one the great success of the finished work of which he had only seen a very small portion. The Fresco is very beautiful, wonderfully elaborate & full of figures of every kind, most highly finished. The whole is very exact as to costume & as to the scenery.24Queen Victoria’s Journal, 28 June 1864, Royal Archives, VIC/MAIN/QVJ/1864: 28 Jun. Used with gracious permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It is very likely that the cartoon she mentions is the same used for the Melbourne version.

However, though the public was generally favourable to the London Moses, it seems there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction. Whether this was due to the long time in execution, the sensitive matter of payment (Herbert had been commissioned to do nine frescoes for £9000 and in the end he did only one for £5000), or just a reaction to the art itself, it appeared in the cautious praise and thematic admonishment of some critics. About this time, in the early 1860s, Herbert started to move away from current trends in painting. As the aesthetic movement began, and ‘art for art’s sake’ became a reality, Herbert was still doggedly insisting on moral purity and truth in art. Though still admired and now very well established, he began to slip out of fashion.

This was noted in Melbourne. Duffy and others on the NGV committee were certainly keen to purchase a large-scale religious painting for the new gallery, but others had their doubts. Archibald Michie, who became Agent General in 1873, wrote an official letter to Barry, warning him that the terms of Herbert’s contract were too generous. He also noted:

However deeply interesting scripture subjects may have been ages back when … uncultivated societies [were] easily affected through the senses, such representations … fall almost unheeded on the people of our time … I cannot imagine the good people of Melbourne falling into raptures with, and rejoicing over their seventeen hundred pound Moses, or coming to the conclusion that their money has been as wisely expended as it might have been.25Archibald Michie, letter to Sir Redmond Barry, 28 Nov. 1873, VPRS 04363/9.

Michie was perhaps moving with the times, though he might also have been slightly prejudiced towards Catholics – he couldn’t stand ‘a good Catholic like Mr Herbert swallowing £1700 of our money’.26Archibald Michie, letter to Sir Redmond Barry, 26 Nov. 1872, State Library of Victoria MS8380, Box 600.2(d). He must have been even more uneasy, along with the rest of the committee, when Herbert missed his 1874 deadline for the completion of the picture by four years.

Until the 1870s, Herbert was hardly ever late with commissions. Yet this period proved too much for him. Within half a decade he experienced the death of his daughter Theresa, harassment and intimidation from his best friend’s son, which resulted in two court cases at the Old Bailey,27Edward Welby Pugin, son of Herbert’s good friend A. W. N. Pugin, was indicted for breaking the peace and libel, and fined £1000. Old Baily Proceedings Online, Sep. 1874, Pugin vs. Herbert. another large commission for the Peer’s Robing Room destroyed in an accident, his reputation and taste being openly questioned at the Royal Academy, and a decrease in the market for his pictures. After all this, his wife had a paralysing stroke that left her bedridden for the remainder of her life. None of these circumstances are mentioned in the letters between London and Melbourne, and the committee was frustrated at Herbert’s silence on the progress of his picture. However, in late 1877 the painting was finally completed and ready for shipment. Michie must have been reassured when he saw the finished product, as he wrote to Barry that it was regarded as superior to the original, and insured it for over twice what the government had paid for it.28Archibald Michie, letter to Redmond Barry, 28 Sep. 1877, VPRS 04363/9

Herbert  made very specific instructions as to the unpacking of the large canvas to avoid damage  (fig. 4).29John Rogers Herbert, letter to Committee of Trustees, n.d., VPRS 04363/9. Though these seem to have been followed, excessive heat in the ship’s hold may have injured the picture. The blotting paper stuck, and some of the paint came away when it was unrolled. It has to be restored before it was hung in the gallery, and there was controversy around Herbert’s method of painting on paper, which he then applied to the canvas. Though Herbert claimed this method to be as durable as oil on canvas,30John Rogers Herbert, letter to Mr Wardell (most likely William Wilkinson Wardell (1823–1899), March 1872, VPRS 04363/9. it has not proved to be the case. The best argument for his unusual technique is authenticity; Herbert painted directly onto his original cartoon so that Melbourne might claim to have an ‘original’ more than a ‘copy’, and one that even pre-dates the mural at Westminster.

Finally the picture was unveiled to the Melbourne public on 25 March 1878. It was an instant success and vast crowds of people came to see the painting. It was noted for its brightness, though some viewers found it distracting: ‘The effect on the eye after gazing at “Moses” is that the rest of the pictures in the room seemed to be dwarfed and dulled’.31South Australian Register, 24 April 1878 p. 6; The Argus, 15 April 1878; Bendigo Advertiser, 24 April 1878, p. 2. The Argus declared that the subject was ‘of no less a scope than the portrayal of the whole spiritual history of mankind’.32The Argus, 19 Jan. 1878, p. 9. Other critics were lukewarm, noting its lack of supernatural attributes. Just as in London, the discussion in the press was dominated by Herbert’s controversial technique and money matters.

The picture hung proudly in the NGV for many decades. It continued to draw large crowds when Sunday openings first began at the Gallery five years after it was first hung, as illustrated by a cartoon in The Australasian Sketcher (fig. 5). After the delay and controversy, the committee must have been finally satisfied in their choice of Moses; not only for its deep theological symbolism and connection to power, but its ability to fascinate the public at large.

By the late 1940s, however, Moses was embarrassingly out of fashion. The NGV attempted to give it to another institution, yet the size of the painting was prohibitive; no one wanted it. It was rolled up and placed in storage. The canvas rested in the NGV’s storage facility in North Melbourne for many decades. It was delicate, owing to the paper pasted on the canvas. It had been unrolled only twice since it was put away in the late 1940s, until recently. When it was unrolled in 2013 we were delighted to discover that the canvas still had its freshness and power to absorb the viewer in the scene. It needed some repair and cleaning, but had held up well.

As a practical measure, owing to its size, as well as a treat for gallery-goers, Moses was restored in full view of the public from April to July 2015. A large platform was built in the second-floor gallery of the NGV and many curious onlookers saw the meticulous consolidation and cleaning of the canvas, as well as the careful restoration of the enormous gilded frame. The restoration uncovered a few secrets too – the shapes of the cartoon paper indicate that Herbert worked up each figure separately and then pasted it onto the larger canvas, and it seems as if the original rolling of Moses for shipment had the paint side rolled inward, compressing it and making it much more susceptible to damage.

The real deterioration of this work of art is not the result of natural forces, per se. It is a disaster of taste. Or, rather, an evolving sense of Australian national identity. No longer a proud colony, but an independent nation, this large canvas suffered for its out-dated style as well as its connections to Westminster. Now, however, the mood has shifted in its favour. No longer keen to forget the taste and political boasts of the nineteenth century, people of the twenty-first century look with curiosity and fascination on such items. This painting tells the story of Australia, the story of Melbourne.

The restored painting has a brightness that has delighted the current public; and the huge frame, now glistening, shows it off perfectly. Now, at last, the public have a chance to view Moses again. It is gratifying to see that, even in the highly image-saturated digital age, viewers still wish to take time to contemplate Melbourne’s Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law.

Dr Nancy Langham Hooper, art historian based at Trinity College, University of Melbourne

Notes

My profound thanks to Ted Gott, John Payne, Michael Varcoe-Cocks and Joy Kremler at the NGV for their time, effort and enthusiasm in the unrolling of the Herbert. This article is drawn from my paper given at the AAANZ annual conference, 7–9 December 2013.

1        Sir Redmond Barry, as quoted in Leonard B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria, 1861–1968: A Search for a Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1970, p. 9.

2        ibid.

3        The commissioners did receive some outside help. Sir Charles Eastlake, artist and one of the founders of the National Gallery in London, assisted with purchasing pictures and giving advice. However, his early death prevented him from having a larger influence on the collection.

4        Annual Report National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1870–71, pp. xxiv–xxv, Victorian Public Records Office (VPRS) 1074/5.

5        John Rogers Herbert was the subject of my doctoral thesis (Langham, N.”‘The Splendour and Beauty of Truth’: John Rogers Herbert, R.A. (1810-1890)” PhD, Oxford Brookes University, 2012). He continues to be the focus of my research.

6        Sir Charles had known Herbert for many years, first meeting him in London at the house of Sir Frederic Lucas, the Catholic orator and founder of The Tablet. ibid.

7        Report of the Sectional Committee of the National Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1872, VPRS 1074/5, p. 20.

8        Alfred Taddy Thomson, letter to Sir Redmond Barry, 25 August 1870, State Library of Victoria, MS8380. Thomson was dubious from the beginning, but acknowledged the potential of the pairing: ‘If these gentlemen can be induced to act together, their great ability, judgment, experience and influence, will be an ample guarantee to the colony for the judicious expenditure of the funds voted for the promotion of the Fine Arts’(Annual Report National Gallery of Victoria 1870–71) p. xxvii.

9        Waterglass, or stereochrome, was a relatively new technique. Watercolour was painted on a prepared surface and then sprayed with silicate gel to protect it. It was done with oil brushes, and provided much more detail than traditional fresco. It was thought to be extremely durable, as there had been several outdoor experiments in Berlin. When Herbert’s Moses (which was a slight variation on this technique) was unveiled in London the Revue des Deux Mondes declared: ‘Soon our streets will become a museum of paintings’ (1 September, 1864 p. 256).

10      These studies can now be found in the V&A and the Hamburger Kunsthalle.

11      John Rogers Herbert, letter to Mr. Wardell (most likely William Wilkinson Wardell (1823 – 1899)), March 1872, VPRS 04363/9.

12      Report of the Sectional Committee of the National Gallery, 1872, p. 24.

13      ibid., p. 20.

14      John Rogers Herbert, letter to Sir Charles Duffy, 11 July 1873, VPRS 04363/9.

15      ‘Le ton général est lumineux, et je ne sache pas de tableau plus clair … tout rappelle l’Orient … On oublie qu’on est à Londres, et on se croit dans le désert.La Revue des Deux Mondes, 1 Sep. 1864, p. 254.

16      The waterglass began to fade within ten years of completion, owing to the deterioration of the silicate gel. Several restoration and cleaning attempts were to no avail. Today the mural is faded, but retains some of its force.

17      John Rogers Herbert, letter to Sir Charles Duffy, 11 July 1873, VPRS 04363/9.

18      Athenaeum, 25 June 1864, p. 875.

19      John Rogers Herbert, as quoted in Royal Academy of Arts Commission, ‘Report of the commissioners into the present position of the Royal Academy, 1863’, Irish University Press Series of British Parliamentary Papers, vol. 5. Irish University Press, Shannon, 1970, p. 520.

20      The Argus, 19 January 1878, p. 9.

21      John Rogers Herbert, letter to John Bright, 28 October 1864, British Library 43388 f212.

22      William H. Gregory, as quoted in Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, Cornelius Buck, London, 1864, vol. 175, p. 425.

23      John Rogers Herbert, as quoted in The Pall Mall Gazette, 1 August 1886, p. 1.

24      Queen Victoria’s Journal, 28 June 1864, Royal Archives, VIC/MAIN/QVJ/1864: 28 Jun. Used with gracious permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It is very likely that the cartoon she mentions is the same used for the Melbourne version.

25      Archibald Michie, letter to Sir Redmond Barry, 28 November 1873, VPRS 04363/9.

26      Archibald Michie, letter to Sir Redmond Barry, 26 November 1872, State Library of Victoria MS8380, Box 600.2(d).

27      Edward Welby Pugin, son of Herbert’s good friend A. W. N. Pugin, was indicted for breaking the peace and libel, and fined £1000. Old Baily Proceedings Online, September 1874, Pugin vs. Herbert.

28      Archibald Michie, letter to Redmond Barry, 28 September 1877, VPRS 04363/9.

29      John Rogers Herbert, letter to Committee of Trustees, n.d., VPRS 04363/9.

30      John Rogers Herbert, letter to Mr Wardell (most likely William Wilkinson Wardell (1823 – 1899)), March 1872, VPRS 04363/9.

31      South Australian Register, 24 April 1878 p. 6; The Argus, 15 April 1878, p. ; Bendigo Advertiser, 24 April 1878 p. 2.

32      The Argus, 19 January 1878, p. 9.

33      Thanks to John Payne and Michael Varcoe-Cocks for their assessment of the condition of the canvas and frame, and their expertise and assistance in the whole process of restoration.