Brilliant student John Longstaff was awarded the National Gallery School’s first travelling scholarship in 1887. Before sailing from Melbourne to Europe, where he joined a small group of Australian expatriate artists living in Paris, he married seventeen-year-old Rosa Louisa (Topsy) Crocker, the subject of Lady in grey. The subtle tonalities of this work and its fashionable Japonist theme are inspired by James McNeill Whistler. Lady in grey was Longstaff’s first Parisian success and was hung ‘on the line’ at the 1890 Paris Salon.
Original, by John Thallon, Melbourne
The frame on Lady in grey is a well preserved example of this framing style, derived from the early Italian cassetta frame and seen in France in this form toward the end of the 1880s.2 It might also be associated with the Watts frame, which was a more contemporary predecessor, or the frames favoured by the Pre-Raphaelites. It becomes one of the standards of John Thallon and appears regularly through the ledger of 1888–1903. Though the painting was painted in Paris, it would appear it was framed some years later in Melbourne.3 Despite the damage to the veneer, this frame demonstrates an eye-catching relationship between frame and painting. It has been a reference point for the harmoniously aged appearance of frame surfaces. The painting and frame can be seen in a photograph from the Loan Exhibition of Australian Art at the National Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, April 1918. The style of frame was favoured, among others, by Frederick McCubbin.
1 Hilary Maddocks, ‘Picture Framemakers in Melbourne c. 1860–1930’ in vol. 1, Frames, Melbourne Journal of Technical Studies in Art, University of Melbourne Conservation Service, 1999.
2 See Camille Pissaro’s The effect of fog, 1888, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Eva Mendgen et al, In Perfect Harmony, Van Gogh Museum, 1995, p. 143. Other examples can be seen in John Milner, The Studios of Paris: The Capital of Art in the Late Nineteenth Century, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1988. In particular the reader is referred to Fig. 259, p. 207, Jean-Charles Cazin in his studio, photograph from c. 1895. The Studios of Paris offers a rich source of documentary evidence of framing practice in nineteenth-century France. The similarities between French frames of this period and frames that were being produced in Melbourne are striking.
3 The painting appears in only a slip on the wall of Longstaff's studio in the Grosvenor Chambers in a photograph from 1896.
John Thallon 122 Little Collins St, Melbourne
The frame uses an imbricated laurel composition ornament on the inner border and oak veneer on the outer flat section. The veneer is butt-joined at the corners over a mitred wooden chassis, causing the veneer to rupture with shrinkage in the chassis. The frame is matte gilded throughout. The gilding on the veneered flat is on minimal preparation, allowing the grain of the timber to show. Bands at the centres and corners are burnished water gilding. The frame is sized with ormolu or glue, which is discoloured and cracked. There appears to be some chemical patination of the leaf border.
Good original condition throughout. The veneer is split across the mitre of the supporting back frame.