An enthusiastic amateur of the arts: Eliezer Levi Montefiore in Melbourne 1853–71

On 10 March 1853 the French ship Vesta arrived in Port Phillip from Sydney, en route to Le Havre. Among the cabin passengers were ‘Mr and Mrs Montefiore and family’.1Argus, 12 March 1853, shipping intelligence. They settled in Melbourne for almost twenty years, in ‘a community whose advancement in wealth has been rapid without parallel, and whose future prospects are brilliant beyond the dreams of hope’.2James Smith, Argus, 16 December 1856. 

Eliezer Levi Montefiore (fig. 1) came to Melbourne to represent some of his family’s extensive business interests; here he was also able to develop his own interest in the arts, which had already briefly shown itself in Adelaide. After moving to Sydney in 1871, his closer involvement was linked with the founding of the New South Wales Academy of Art, and from this the Art Gallery of New South Wales, of which he became first Director from 1892 until his death in 1894.3Eliezer Levi Montefiore 1820–94: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5, p. 269. The entry, by George Bergman, is very unreliable for Montefiore’s years in Adelaide and Melbourne. Ruth Faerber, ‘Eliezer Levi Montefiore’, Journal of Proceeding, Australian Jewish Historical Society, VIII, 4, 1977, p. 185, follows and expands on Bergman’s material. I am indebted to Ruth Faerber for entrusting me with all her notes and references, including papers received from Dr Bergman. Some further details may be found in Hirsch Munz, Jews in South Australia, Thornquist Press, Adelaide, 1936; and Lazarus Μ. Goldman, The Jews in Victoria in the Nineteenth Century, the author, Melbourne, 1954. These later years in Sydney are comparatively well documented, and his early years in Adelaide have never been adequately studied. This article seeks to present new information on his move to Melbourne and his years there. 

The Montefiores had links with Australia from 1829, when Eliezer’s maternal uncle, Joseph Barrow Montefiore,4Joseph Barrow Montefiore 1803–93: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, pp. 250–51; entry by Israel Gertler. arrived in Sydney with his wife and two children, and several other relatives. Another uncle, Jacob Montefiore, was appointed one of the eleven Commissioners for the colonisation of South Australia, but apart from several visits to Adelaide, he spent only a few years in Australia as a merchant in Melbourne.5G. Bergman, ‘Rise and Fall of Male Montefiores’; Australian Jewish News, 2 April 1971. 

Eliezer’s elder brother, Jacob Levi Montefiore,6Jacob Isaac Levi Montefiore 1819–85: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5, pp. 270–71; entry by Martha Rutledge. joined his uncle Joseph Barrow Montefiore in Sydney in 1837, later going into business on his own. On 1 November 1846 Jacob Levi announced his partnership in Sydney with a wealthy young Scot, Robert Graham, under the name Montefiore, Graham and Co.7Printed announcement, with letter to S. Cohen, 6 November 1846; Mitchell Library, Sydney, Mss Am 35. With the family established in Australia, the young Eliezer joined them a few years after the death of his father, Isaac Levi, in Belgium in 1839.8Biography Nationale publiée par l’Académie des Sciences des Lettres et des Beaux Arts de Belgique, T.38, supplement T.10, Bruxelles 1973–74, col. 598: entry for George Montefiore Levi 1832–1906, younger brother of Eliezer. Kindly communicated to me by Marianne Rucquoy, Commission Royale d’Histoire, Bruxelles. He probably initially travelled to Sydney to join his elder brother; by 1843 Eliezer was in Adelaide and stayed there for about ten years. Montefiore’s Store in Adelaide is prominent in one of the finest of S. T. Gill’s watercolours, Sturt’s overland expedition leaving Adelaide, 10th August, 1844.9Art Gallery of South Australia, AGSA O.1128. 

Following the discovery of gold in the Port Phillip District in 1851, Melbourne’s rapid growth and newly-found prosperity seemed to offer great opportunities to merchants, and the Montefiore family were among many who could anticipate a profitable new market.10By July 1853 this no longer seems to have been the case, according to a report from Montefiore, Graham and Co. in Melbourne; quoted by Eric Richards, Journal of Proceeding, Australian Jewish Historical Society, VIII, 4, 1977, p. 162. Eliezer’s uncle Jacob came to Melbourne early in 1852, and his company, Jacob Montefiore and Co., was listed in Melbourne directories from 1853 to 1855. He appeared both as a merchant (initially at 92 Collins Street West, then at 83 Elizabeth Street) and as a banker; he advertised dealings in gold, wool and tallow, and as the agent for Ν. M. Rothschild & Co.11Compiled from directory entries, Argus, 1852–53, and other sources.

His advertisements in January 1853 offer a strange assembly of commodities: 

Fine Leeward Island Rum

Martell’s pale old brandy in quarter casks

Old Tom, No 1

Eleme raisins

Zante currants

Preserved salmon

Chamois skins

Men’s strong boots

Ewbank’s nails, assorted

Sheet lead

Liverpool soap

Cork butter

A fresh assortment of Milner’s iron safes and deed boxes




With his uncle already in Melbourne, Eliezer came to manage his brother Jacob Levi Montefiore’s interests, as representative for Montefiore, Graham and Co. Eliezer may already have been used to travelling between the Australian colonies on family business;12Arrivals of Mr Montefiore in Adelaide from Sydney on the brig Emma are noted on 1 July 1842 and 19 March 1845 in shipping records; letter of Sadie Pritchard to Ruth Faerber, 28 April 1977. in 1849 he travelled from Adelaide to Melbourne on the ship Eliza, which carried a cargo of 251 tons of copper ore from the South Australia Company.13Argus, 10 October 1849, shipping intelligence. The Montefiores had extensive mining interests in South Australia, see Munz, op. cit.

By then Eliezer had married his cousin Esther Hannah Barrow Montefiore, in Adelaide on 3 May 1848. Their first son, Arthur Augustus, was born in Adelaide on 6 May 1849; a second son, Frederick, was also born there on 12 March 1852, but died at the age of three months.14Letter of Sadie Pritchard, 9 September 1976, citing Adelaide Observer, 6 May 1849, and Birth Register in the Congregation’s records. By mid-1852 Eliezer and his family seem to have begun plans to move to Melbourne. On 3 October they set out for Melbourne on the ship Woodbridge15Argus, 8 October 1852, shipping intelligence. They are entered as ‘Mr and Mrs Montefiore, Miss Montefiore and servant’; the three-year-old son may still have been dressed in petticoats as was usual at the time., the first stage of a trip to Sydney to visit Jacob Levi Montefiore and his family; five months later they finally disembarked in Melbourne to set up house and business. 

These travels are delightfully recorded in a hitherto unidentified sketchbook in the La Trobe Library.16La Trobe Library, Melbourne, LTA Η 84.459/816, bought from Maggs, London, as ‘The Original Book of Drawings in water-colours executed by William Leigh of Little Aston, Staffordshire, containing Forty-one drawings of Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne’, cat. no. 564. William Leigh, and the reasons for Maggs’s attribution, are otherwise unknown. Christine Downer, the Pictures Librarian, kindly read through the original draft of this text and brought the sketchbook to my attention, remembering that it contained one drawing signed ‘E L M’. Most of the drawings are dated and briefly titled in pencil, but unsigned; they allow us to accompany the author on his journey, without revealing his identity. The only immediate clue in the entire book is the modest signature ‘E L M’ on the final page, under a beautiful half-length portrait of a young woman with dark hair, and dated ‘Dec 25./52’ (fig. 2). The previous page has a similar, but less fine, portrait dated ‘Jan 9th 1853’. It is presumed here that both are portraits of Eliezer’s wife Esther. 

The dates of the sketches of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney correspond to shipping intelligence of the Montefiores’ travels at this time, in particular their final arrival in Melbourne on the French ship Vesta, commanded by E. Soubry. Further, two of the drawings were used by Eliezer fifteen years later as the basis for the etchings Environs de Sydney and The rip, Port Phillip Heads (fig. 3).17The two drawings are inscribed in pencil: ‘Woolloomoolloo/Sydney 20 Oct 52; P.P. Heads/9. Mar/53’. This new attribution of the sketchbook thus seems beyond question, and is a substantial addition to awareness of Montefiore as an artist. 


The sketchbook begins with an unannotated sketch of an elegant cottage; a later drawing suggests that it was Eliezer and Esther’s home in Adelaide after their marriage. The following three watercolours were made in Melbourne on 9 and 10 October 1852, and two sketches of Twofold Bay were made three days later. The ship reached Garden Island, Sydney, on 20 October; there are eleven drawings of Sydney, the last of which is dated 7 November. 

Eliezer then apparently returned to Adelaide to settle up affairs there, pausing in Hobson’s Bay (Port Phillip) on 15 November to sketch the renowned steam ship Great Britain, but probably not disembarking. The ten careful drawings made in Adelaide between 28 November and 27 December are parting souvenirs of a familiar town. In addition to the more public sights – the Collegiate School, the River Torrens, Frome Bridge – there are more personal views of Eliezer’s own cottage, and of uncle Joseph’s house, peopled by members of the family and the pet dog. It is at about this time that Eliezer drew, at the back of the book, the portrait of his wife(?) and added his signature. 

Two sketches in Melbourne are dated 17 January 1853, one perhaps of the house he had arranged for his forthcoming residence in the colony; then Montefiore was back in Sydney for the end of January and most of February, in time to enjoy a regatta on Sydney Harbour on 26 January – and to make a lively panoramic sketch of it, using both facing pages and covering the entire width of the open sketchbook. For about a month Eliezer stayed in Sydney with his elder brother, for much of it, one supposes, finalising business arrangements for Melbourne or sweltering in the sub-tropical heat and humidity. From the end of January there were no sketches until a few days before the Montefiores’ departure on 24 February. On the verso of a later page is a short pencilled note: ‘Sailed from Sydney 24th Feby 1853 at 4. a.m./anchored at P.P. – 9 March 10. p.m.’ 

There is a drawing of ships – some sail, some steam – at ‘P.P. Heads’ dated ‘9 Mar/1853’, when the Montefiores’ ship sailed into Port Phillip; it is followed by a portrait of the latter, the French ship Vesta

Eliezer seems to have assumed the proud identity of a Melbourne merchant from the moment of his final landing in the town. A scene of shipping – ‘Hobson’s Bay/11 March 1853’ – shows a French ship (again the Vesta) and is annotated on the facing page: ‘The first French vessel loaded with/Australian produce for France’. 

The cargo included 170 bales of wool and 379 casks of tallow consigned by Montefiore, Graham and Co. in Sydney.18Herald, 12 February 1853 and 19 February 1853, shipping intelligence. Shipping seems to have held a particular appeal for Eliezer at this period, and the next double- page of the sketchbook is another animated panorama. It shows a dense cluster of ships on the Yarra Yarra River, in front of the Customs House and with St James Cathedral further in the distance to the left (fig. 4). With its vigorous use of pen and ink, particularly on the patterns of tackle and rigging on the ships, this is the liveliest drawing in the book; unusually, it bears neither date nor inscription. 

Finally, two further panoramas towards the end of the sketchbook show an interest in the early history of Melbourne, soon after its foundation in 1837. The first, ‘Melbourne from the Falls. June 30. 1837’, is copied by Montefiore from a familiar drawing by Robert Russell, the first surveyor.19Robert Russell (1808–1900) evidently copied and repeated his original sketch on many later occasions. Eliezer certainly owned one of the later copies, reproduced in Illustrated Sydney News, 30 August 1888, p. 5; and in 1866 made an etched version, discussed below, which differs in substantial details from the version in the sketchbook copy. The second is inscribed ‘Panorama of Early Melbourne/October 1838’ and again must have been copied from an original sketch by Russell; it is a less familiar but more interesting view of the recently founded village.

The firm of Montefiore, Graham and Co. was established at 54 William Street from 1854 to 1859. In 1855 the firm was advertising its agency for the French National Steam Packet Company; in 1859 Tanner’s directory also listed Montefiores Bonded Stores, Lonsdale Street East. The business presumably closed its Melbourne office some time in 1860; the partnership between Montefiore and Graham was dissolved in 1861. 

In 1861, for the first and only time, Eliezer appeared in a business of his own for a few years: E. L. Montefiore and Co., merchants, at 116 Lonsdale Street West, with Montefiore’s bonded store at 159 Lonsdale Street West. The firm was listed from 1861 until 1864, the year in which Eliezer became Secretary of the Australasian Insurance Company, a position he retained until his move to Sydney. In 1863 the bonded store passed to the Cleve brothers, with whom Montefiore had shared his main premises.20Compiled from directories and Argus, also Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5, p. 270.

Already in Adelaide Eliezer had exhibited his own drawings: five drawings (three of them views of Sydney) appeared in the second Exhibition of Pictures of 1848; in 1851 he advertised ‘Old Masters’ for sale.21S. C. Wilson & Κ. T. Borrow, The Bridge Over the Ocean, Adelaide, 1973, pp. 305–6. The authors have inadvertently transposed the dates of the first two exhibitions. He also seems to have owned drawings by S. T. Gill,22Mitchell Library Sydney: Ζ SSV*/S.P.COLL/GILL/1 Frome Bridge, Adelaide; Ζ SSV*/S.P.COLL/GILL/2 King William St. Adelaide; Ζ SSV*/S.Ρ.COLL/GILL/3 Port Adelaide, S.A. King William St. Adelaide is a portrait of Montefiore’s Store (see note 9 above) and has been annotated in pencil in the margin ‘My store My dwelling E L M’. Montefiore’s known copies after Gill are carefully signed with his initials ‘E L M’. It is possible that two of them were exhibited in Melbourne at the Victoria Fine Arts Society Exhibition, August 1853, cat. nos 95 (View in Adelaide, South Australia) and 120 (Port Adelaide, South Australia) so they may have been lent by Montefiore. and himself made careful copies of other Gill sketches.23Mitchell Library, Sydney; three-wash drawings: Ζ SSV3/RAC/VIC P/l Race course, Adelaide; SSV */AUS ABO/MAN/1 Aborigines making fire; SSV*/BUSH L/4 Bushmen preparing to fire on Aborigines. In Melbourne he made his first appearance as an exhibitor at the Melbourne Exhibition 1854, held ‘in connexion with the Paris Exhibition 1855’; not, however, as an artist, but in the category ‘Specimens in Natural History’, where he displayed no. 209: Skeleton of a deaf adder found in an ant hill at Port Lincoln. In the Fine Arts section the exhibition included the artists MacKennal, von Guérard, Becker, Strutt and Summers, amongst others. 

The artist Nicholas Chevalier24Nicholas Chevalier 1828–1902: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 3, pp. 387–88; entry by Marjorie J. Tipping. came to the colony in February 1855; first spending some time at the goldfields, before returning to Melbourne and taking a position as illustrator for Melbourne Punch later in the same year. Eliezer became a close friend of the Chevaliers, and the younger artist seems to have encouraged Montefiore in his amateur activities in the arts. Eliezer may also already have been on terms of friendship with Redmond Barry. At least his reputation and social standing in the colony are indicated by his election to the Melbourne Club at a meeting on Wednesday, 2 July 1856.25First brought to my attention by Paul Huège de Serville; letter of R. R. McNicoll, honorary archivist, Melbourne Club, 6 March 1986. 

The Victorian Exhibition of Art, organised by Mr Frank Newton at the Exhibition Building in December 1856, included, under the heading ‘Watercolours’, three works by E. L. Montefiore: 50. The glee maiden, 60. Distinguished member of the Humane Society, and 61. Return from the warren. Although all three are clearly described in the catalogue as ‘etchings’, this seems unlikely (it was a common misuse at the time to describe pen-and-ink drawings as etchings); ‘and E.L. Montefiore, with a series in Indian Ink, was a great delight to the taste of that generation’.26Alexander Sutherland, Melbourne and its Metropolis, Melbourne, [c.1888], p. 502. Distinguished member of the Humane Society, a copy of a Landseer painting of a dog (probably known from an engraving), seems to have been a particular favourite, and is exhibited on a number of later occasions when it is described as a pen-and-ink drawing.27‘The Distinguished Member of the Humane Society (Landseer’s unrivalled Newfoundland dog) is Mr Montefiore’s well-known chef d’oeuvre in pen and ink’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 March 1872 , review of the First Exhibition of the New South Wales Academy of Art.

Eliezer also lent a number of ‘Foreign Photographs’ to the 1856 Exhibition – seven French views by Bisson Frères, nine Crimean and other scenes by Robertson, and five views of the University of Sydney by his own younger brother, Octavius Levi Montefiore,28Octavius Levi Montefiore, c.1834–93, merchant, died 4 July 1893, obituary in Table Talk, 14 July 1893. who had only recently arrived in Australia. 

It was almost ten years before Eliezer again exhibited his works – this time including his first-known etching – in the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition 1866–67, although in the intervening years the First Exhibition of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts was presented in 1857, and there were a number of subsequent exhibitions.29Christine Downer & Jennifer Phipps, Victorian Vision, Exhibition Catalogue, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1985, pp. 92–93. This may be due in part to the changes in the family businesses, and Eliezer’s other public commitments, and in part to the domestic circumstances of a growing family. In addition to Arthur Augustus, the surviving son of two born in Adelaide, two further sons were born in Melbourne but died in early infancy (George Jacob, born in 1855, died the same year; Albert Frank, born in 1857, died in 1858). The Melbourne household was greatly increased by a series of daughters: Caroline, born c.1855, then Amy (1859), Eliza Jessie (1861), Mary (2 May 1863), Esther Lilian (7 July 1866), Ethel Octavia (1868) and Hortense (1871).30Based on notes held in Australian Dictionary of Biography files. 

By 1861 the Montefiores were living in a house on the east side of Lennox Street, Richmond (near Bridge Road), set in grounds of about half an acre.31University Archives, University of Melbourne: James Graham papers, Private Letter Book No. 4; the papers contain details of other business dealings with Montefiore, Graham and Co. and with the Australasian Insurance Company. My thanks to the University Archivist, Frank Strachan, for his generous guidance through this extensive collection of documents. Rented through the merchant James Graham, it was offered for sale to them at £1200 in December of that year, but the offer seems to have lapsed a few months later. Some years later – in March 1866 – the house, ‘Pine Grove’, was sold to the theatrical enterpreneur George Coppin for £1500. The Montefiores moved to a recently-built house on the east side of Murphy Street, South Yarra, where they remained until leaving Melbourne for Sydney in 1871.32Directories and other sources. One of two new houses, built between the properties of W. W. Dobbs and F. Tate, Montefiore’s house was subsequently occupied by Mrs Robert Gannon, and numbered 14 Murphy Street.

A few works, never exhibited, date from these years. The most charming is an album of sketches and photographs, evidently compiled by Eliezer as an eighth-birthday present for his eldest daugher Caroline.33Mitchell Library, Sydney, B.551, in embossed black leather cover. The ornamental title page is inscribed: CARRY/from/Papa/30th March/1864. In addition, one of three small sketchbooks contains drawings of Melbourne and Adelaide dated from ‘9 Nov 65’ to ‘Oct 7./66’.34Mitchell Library, Sydney, B.848, B.849, B.850; bought from the Bush Book Club, 5 May 1933, and possibly from the estate of Caroline Levi Montefiore who died in Sydney on 14 August 1932. B.849 has drawings dated 1865 and 1866 of Brighton, the Botanical Gardens and Port Adelaide. B.848 and B.850 are later in date, probably 1876–82. A recently rediscovered presentation drawing of Kenney’s bathing ship for gentlemen, St Kilda (fig. 5), seems to date from the late 1850s or early 1860s.35La Trobe Library, Melbourne, Η. 1839 LT Box/M, Kennedy’s [sic] bathing ship for gentlemen, drawing, pencil with light wash and scratched highlights, 14.0 x 22.2 cm, oval on prepared yellow-green tinted paper mounted on presentation backing; inscribed on flag of ship, as titled above. Captain William Kenney established his baths in St Kilda in the mid-1850s, around the hulk of an ancient Swedish brig Nancy, which had been abandoned by its crew in Port Phillip in 1854. For a lively and informative account of Kenney’s Baths, see John Butler Cooper, The History of St Kilda, Printers Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1931, pp. 156 ff. 

Sir Redmond Barry wrote to E. L. Montefiore on 7 November 1866:36La Trobe Library, Melbourne, Redmond Barry papers, 599/2(k).

Dear Sir 

Allow me to thank you for your kind attention in sending to me a copy of your admirable etching representing Melbourne in 1837. On Thursday next I will (if it please God I shall live) complete my 27th year of residence here.   

The etching Melbourne from the Falls 1837 is one of the three works contributed by Eliezer to the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition 1866–67. The others – our old friend of the Humane Society, and Joan of Arc – are almost certainly pen-and-ink drawings. Eliezer was awarded a medal for Etchings [sic] in Aquafortis; it is the first unequivocal reference to an identifiable etching by him.37Melbourne from the falls 1837 after Robert Russell, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 5594, La Trobe (two impressions), H.2240, H.3831, National Library of Australia; here dated 1866. It is safe to assume that it had only recently been completed, and that Eliezer was proud of his achievement. 

The fullest available reference to etching in mid-nineteenth-century Melbourne is given by William Moore: ‘The late George Gordon McCrae once informed me that Nicholas Chevalier and Richard Henry Horne, author of Orion, did a few etchings. And both taught McCrae how to handle a plate.’38William Moore, The Story of Australian Art, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1934, vol. 11, pp. 129–30. Etchings by Home and McCrae have yet to be located or identified. It would appear that Chevalier also taught his friend Montefiore. There is no evidence to suggest that Eliezer visited Europe during his Melbourne years; and although he appears to have maintained an exchange of letters with his younger brother Edward,39Edward Levi Montefiore 1826–1906. The entries for Montefiore in Thieme-Becker, Kunstlerlexikon, and following it in Bénézit, completely confuse the brothers Edward and Eliezer under one single entry. For some years Edward acted for the Art Gallery of New South Wales as its Paris adviser. He died at Coucy-le-Château. an engineer and later a banker in Paris, a pupil of the French etcher Maxime Lalanne, and an active amateur etcher in his own right, it is hardly likely that Eliezer could have learnt etching by correspondence. 

Over the next four years, Eliezer made a dozen or so etchings. While it is not clear whether three plates dated 1866 are by him rather than by his brother Edward in Paris,40The plates that cannot be attributed to Eliezer with complete confidence are: 1. La mazeppe (The worn-out horse) 1866, after Carel Dujardin AGNSW.5062, La Trobe H.9396. At this period it would be quite usual to copy a seventeenth-century Dutch etching as a student exercise when learning etching. This might be an early experiment by Eliezer. 2. (Garden scene – at foot of steps) 1866, AGNSW.5598, La Trobe H.9397. More probably by Edward? 3. (Garden scene – woman seated) 1866, AGNSW.5599. Probably by Edward? his authorship of four plates dated 1868 is certain.41Portrait of Ν. Chevalier esq. Fancy dress Rubens 1868, Mitchell P2/117; Port Phillip Heads Australia 1868, La Trobe, (two impressions) H.1514, H.6698, see above and note 19; Pigeon Ray Creek, Banks Peninsula Ν.Ζ. 1868, after N. Chevalier; AGNSW, (two impressions) 5600, 410.1985, Mitchell SV7B/BAN Ρ./1, the drawing is in the National Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, acc. no. 501 (formerly P50A); André Vésale 1868 after Ed. Hamman, AGNSW.5596. The portrait of his friend, Portrait of N. Chevalier esq. Fancy dress Rubens, and the view of The rip, Port Phillip Heads are apparently based on his own drawings; that of Chevalier shows the artist at a fancy-dress ball dressed as Rubens (fig. 6); the artist von Guérard had appeared at the ball as Salvator Rosa. The other etchings reproduce a watercolour by Chevalier (fig. 7) and a modern French painting by Ed Hamman; Eliezer probably knew the latter painting only from a photograph. None of Eliezer’s other Melbourne plates seem to be dated, and only two of his later Sydney plates, but in some cases an approximate date can be assumed. In 1869 he gave a group of etchings to the National Gallery of Victoria;42Identified in the Gallery’s 1894 Catalogue (cat. nos 76, 86 (1–4)): Melbourne from the falls 1837/Environs of Sydney/Crossing a Creek N.Z./after … N. Chevalier/Port Phillip Heads/Pigeon Point, Banks Peninsula, N.Z./after . . . N. Chevalier. in 1870 he exhibited six etchings, as well as three drawings,43Cat. no. 151, Portrait, in charcoal, drawing; 218, Kapiti Island, N.Z., etching; 219, Still life, watercolour; 220, André Vésale, etching; 221, Pigeon Bay Creek … , etching; 225, The lesson, etching; 226, View in Tahiti, etching; 227, Catching flies, etching; 228, Sketch, charcoal. Etchings survive, particularly because of Eliezer’s gifts of etchings to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1869 and to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1894. at the first exhibition of the Victorian Academy of Arts, of which he was a council member from 1870 to 1872 and a life member from 1874.44Catalogues of the Victorian Academy of Arts.


An Act of Incorporation passed in late 1869 united the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery under one newly-formed board of Trustees. The thirteen Trustees were announced by the Chief Secretary on Monday, 1 February 1870, and gazetted three days later. The letter, dated 3 February and notifying Eliezer Levi Montefiore of his appointment as a Trustee, is still preserved.45La Trobe Library, Melbourne, Australian autograph collection, M.4970.

Five committees were appointed at a special meeting of trustees held on 18 March; the National Gallery Committee comprised the Hon. C. G. Duff, the Hon. Τ. T. à Beckett, the Hon. A. Michie and E. L. Montefiore Esqr. Montefiore seems to have attended the meetings regularly, acting as Chairman on occasion.46La Trobe Library Archives, Minutes of the National Gallery Committee. In the same year Eliezer also appeared as one of the Commissioners for Victoria for the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition of 1870, with Redmond Barry as President. 

The next February the Argus announced Eliezer’s impending departure: 

The Public will be glad to learn that Mr E. L. Montefiore, the late secretary of the Australasian Insurance Company, who will shortly leave Melbourne to fill the post of Secretary to the Pacific Insurance Company in Sydney, has consented to not wholly withdraw himself from the conduct of the affairs of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery, of which he is a trustee. Mr Montefiore’s taste in art, and personal talent as an artist, has enabled him to render most valuable assistance to the committee of the National Gallery, to which section of the institution he particularly devoted his attention.47Argus, February 1871. Montefiore’s main contribution from Sydney was to be the purchase in 1873 of a fine Conrad Martens watercolour Apsley Falls, Acquisition no. Ρ166/1.

He attended his last meeting of the committee on 21 March 1871, and the trustees expressed their regret at his leaving. As a farewell presentation he was given an album of facsimiles after Dürer woodcuts, with a dedicatory inscription impressed in gold on the front cover.48Now held by the Department of Prints and Drawings, Art Gallery of New South Wales. 

‘Mr Montefiore’s … personal talent as an artist’ is briefly indicated above, and by the illustrations to this article. He never seeks to intrude himself as more than an enthusiastic amateur; yet the best of his etchings have a certain strength and technical accomplishment surprising in one working almost in isolation from the etching revival appearing in France. After his move to Sydney, some of his later etchings were included in portfolios published in Paris by Cadart49For Cadart and his publications, see Janine Bailly-Herzberg, L’Eau-forte du peintre au dix-neuvième siècle: La Société des Aquafortistes (1862–1867), 2 vols, Léonce Laget, Paris, 1972. – the professionally engraved titles on Pigeon Bay Creek and Port Phillip Heads suggest that they too were intended for publication, probably in portfolios – and stand up quite well to comparison with many of the contributions by French professional artists, particularly for their directness and simplicity 

His taste in art, at least during his Melbourne years, is not so well documented or so easy to judge, without depending on the evidence of his Sydney years and in particular the two papers – ‘Etchings and Etchers’ (1876) and ‘Art Criticism’ (1879) – delivered to the Royal Society of New South Wales. We do at least know something of his own collection from the loans he made to the important Exhibition of Art and Art Treasures held in Melbourne in 1869, and it is worth recounting his contribution here: 


326.     Ostia                                                               Chevalier 


161.     On the Tambo River, Gipps Land                   Chevalier 

162.     Teremakau, N.Z.                                             Chevalier 

163.     Sydney Harbour, N. S. W.                               Martens 


88.       Landscape, in charcoal                                   artist unknown 

89.       Head of Moses                                                artist unknown 

90.       Head of a girl                                                   artist unknown 

91.       Cupid drawn by the Graces                             A. Kauffman 

92.       Study                                                               by Bartolozzi 

93.       Study                                                               by Bamboccio 

94.       Study                                                               by Padovanino 

95.       Study                                                               by Bernard Castelli 

96.       Study                                                               by Gainsborough 


78.       Les Plaisirs du Bal                                           after Watteau, Scolin 

79.       Madonna and Child, after Rubens                   Morghen Raphael 

80.       Le Jugement de Paris, after Vanderwerf         Blot 

81.       La Retour a la ferme, after Berghem, in aquafortis       

82.       Paris (view of), an etching, in aquafortis          Lalane 

83.       St. Jerome, in aquafortis                                  artist unknown 

102–10. Photographs, chiefly after old masters (25 items)

The variety and curiosity of the group is in itself interesting. Photographs, including those after works of art, are readily and unselfconsciously accepted in nineteenth- century exhibitions in Australia. Redmond Barry had himself initially recommended that the Public Library buy photographs and not original works of art, which would prove too expensive; and in 1869 the National Gallery of Victoria was forming a collection of autotypes by Adolphe Braun after the masters and their drawings, and these are still held in the Department of Prints and Drawings. Similarly, the sharp distinction between original and reproductive prints had yet to be made. The view of Paris (no longer identifiable) by Maxime Lalanne would have been a recent work by one of the modern masters of French etching; Lalanne had taught Eliezer’s brother Edward in Paris. 

The selection of oil painting and watercolours is less surprising. Eliezer had some personal interest in Conrad Martens, as well as in Sydney;50Both his uncle, Joseph Barrow, and brother, Jacob Levi, had been patrons of Conrad Martens in the 1840s. and his friendship with Chevalier has already been mentioned. Teremakau, N.Z. seems to have been the model for Eliezer’s etching Crossing a creek.51See note 42 above. The watercolour has not been located. There is a small oil painting of the subject in the Wollongong City Art Gallery, and a large finished composition painted in Europe from earlier sketches in the Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand. Chevalier’s painting Ostia was also lent to the Ballarat Fine Arts Exhibition in 1869. 

It is the drawings which here deserve closer attention. The first three, by unknown artists, cannot be traced any further, and are presumably long since lost. The Gainsborough also has been lost.52Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1899 Catalogue, no. 601, as gift of E. L. Montefiore 1883. It appeared in the 1924 Catalogue, but was transferred to the Education Department in May 1927, and has not been traced since. It is presumed lost. Given the often hopeful and dubious attributions given to works of art in nineteenth-century loan exhibitions in Australia, one might also be tempted to dismiss the remaining five; but Eliezer gave them to the National Gallery of Victoria late in 1869,53Report of the Trustees, 1870, in Victorian Parliamentary Papers 1871, vol.2. and they appear again in the Gallery’s 1894 catalogue, although not in the Gallery’s Stock Book No. 1. They are here identified and published for the first time in nearly a hundred years, and the best is illustrated. 

The attributions are mostly based on early inscriptions, and seem reliable. The Padovanino drawing (fig. 8) has a companion at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, also given by E. L. Montefiore,54Alessandro Varotari, called ‘il Padovanino’, Study of a stooping shepherd boy, drawing, black chalk heightened with white, 36.5 x 26.1 cm, on blue paper mostly discoloured to a dull buff; old attribution in brown ink, lower right; ‘Padovanino’, part of an old attribution, centre right, ‘Padov/’ Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of E. L. Montefiore 1883, inv. 474. and the two appear to have been once joined as a single sheet. All five drawings are of good quality, although not now in universally pristine condition; and these are the first old master drawings to enter the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. To the list of Eliezer Levi Montefiore’s other achievements in Melbourne can be added his forgotten role in starting the collection of old master drawings. 

Nicholas Draffin, Curator of Prints and Drawings, Art Gallery of New South Wales (in 1988). 


I am particularly grateful to Ruth Faerber, Paul Huège de Serville and Tim Bonyhady for information, guidance and encouragement at crucial stages in my research. I also warmly thank Christine Downer, Mary Lewis and other colleagues at the La Trobe Library, Melbourne; Elizabeth Imashev and the staff of the Mitchell Library, Sydney; Frank Strachan and the University Archives, University of Melbourne; the staff of the Australian Dictionary of Biography; and the many others, both in Australia and overseas, who have contributed to material gradually gathered over ten years. The Art Gallery of New South Wales allowed a short period of study leave in Melbourne in early 1987 which has helped to bring the research to fruition. 



1          Argus, 12 March 1853, shipping intelligence. 

2          James Smith, Argus, 16 December 1856. 

3          Eliezer Levi Montefiore 1820–94: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5, p. 269. The entry, by George Bergman, is very unreliable for Montefiore’s years in Adelaide and Melbourne. Ruth Faerber, ‘Eliezer Levi Montefiore’, Journal of Proceeding, Australian Jewish Historical Society, VIII, 4, 1977, p. 185, follows and expands on Bergman’s material. I am indebted to Ruth Faerber for entrusting me with all her notes and references, including papers received from Dr Bergman. Some further details may be found in Hirsch Munz, Jews in South Australia, Thornquist Press, Adelaide, 1936; and Lazarus Μ. Goldman, The Jews in Victoria in the Nineteenth Century, the author, Melbourne, 1954. 

4          Joseph Barrow Montefiore 1803–93: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, pp. 250–51; entry by Israel Gertler. 

5          G. Bergman, ‘Rise and Fall of Male Montefiores’; Australian Jewish News, 2 April 1971. 

6          Jacob Isaac Levi Montefiore 1819–85: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5, pp. 270–71; entry by Martha Rutledge. 

7          Printed announcement, with letter to S. Cohen, 6 November 1846; Mitchell Library, Sydney, Mss Am 35. 

8          Biography Nationale publiée par l’Académie des Sciences des Lettres et des Beaux Arts de Belgique, T.38, supplement T.10, Bruxelles 1973–74, col. 598: entry for George Montefiore Levi 1832–1906, younger brother of Eliezer. Kindly communicated to me by Marianne Rucquoy, Commission Royale d’Histoire, Bruxelles. 

9          Art Gallery of South Australia, AGSA O.1128. 

10        By July 1853 this no longer seems to have been the case, according to a report from Montefiore, Graham and Co. in Melbourne; quoted by Eric Richards, Journal of Proceeding, Australian Jewish Historical Society, VIII, 4, 1977, p. 162. 

11        Compiled from directory entries, Argus, 1852–53, and other sources. 

12        Arrivals of Mr Montefiore in Adelaide from Sydney on the brig Emma are noted on 1 July 1842 and 19 March 1845 in shipping records; letter of Sadie Pritchard to Ruth Faerber, 28 April 1977. 

13        Argus, 10 October 1849, shipping intelligence. The Montefiores had extensive mining interests in South Australia, see Munz, op. cit. 

14        Letter of Sadie Pritchard, 9 September 1976, citing Adelaide Observer, 6 May 1849, and Birth Register in the Congregation’s records. 

15        Argus, 8 October 1852, shipping intelligence. They are entered as ‘Mr and Mrs Montefiore, Miss Montefiore and servant’; the three-year-old son may still have been dressed in petticoats as was usual at the time. 

16        La Trobe Library, Melbourne, LTA Η 84.459/816, bought from Maggs, London, as ‘The Original Book of Drawings in water-colours executed by William Leigh of Little Aston, Staffordshire, containing Forty-one drawings of Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne’, cat. no. 564. William Leigh, and the reasons for Maggs’s attribution, are otherwise unknown. Christine Downer, the Pictures Librarian, kindly read through the original draft of this text and brought the sketchbook to my attention, remembering that it contained one drawing signed ‘E L M’. 

17        The two drawings are inscribed in pencil: 

‘Woolloomoolloo/Sydney 20 Oct 52; P.P. Heads/9. Mar/53’. 

18        Herald, 12 February 1853 and 19 February 1853, shipping intelligence. 

19        Robert Russell (1808–1900) evidently copied and repeated his original sketch on many later occasions. Eliezer certainly owned one of the later copies, reproduced in Illustrated Sydney News, 30 August 1888, p. 5; and in 1866 made an etched version, discussed below, which differs in substantial details from the version in the sketchbook copy. 

20        Compiled from directories and Argus, also Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5, p. 270. 

21        S. C. Wilson & Κ. T. Borrow, The Bridge Over the Ocean, Adelaide, 1973, pp. 305–6. The authors have inadvertently transposed the dates of the first two exhibitions. 

22        Mitchell Library Sydney: Ζ SSV*/S.P.COLL/GILL/1 Frome Bridge, Adelaide; Ζ SSV*/S.P.COLL/GILL/2 King William St. Adelaide; Ζ SSV*/S.Ρ.COLL/GILL/3 Port Adelaide, S.A. King William St. Adelaide is a portrait of Montefiore’s Store (see note 9 above) and has been annotated in pencil in the margin ‘My store My dwelling E L M’. Montefiore’s known copies after Gill are carefully signed with his initials ‘E L M’. It is possible that two of them were exhibited in Melbourne at the Victoria Fine Arts Society Exhibition, August 1853, cat. nos 95 (View in Adelaide, South Australia) and 120 (Port Adelaide, South Australia) so they may have been lent by Montefiore. 

23        Mitchell Library, Sydney; three-wash drawings: Ζ SSV3/RAC/VIC P/l Race course, Adelaide; SSV */AUS ABO/MAN/1 Aborigines making fire; SSV*/BUSH L/4 Bushmen preparing to fire on Aborigines

24        Nicholas Chevalier 1828–1902: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 3, pp. 387–88; entry by Marjorie J. Tipping. 

25        First brought to my attention by Paul Huège de Serville; letter of R. R. McNicoll, honorary archivist, Melbourne Club, 6 March 1986. 

26        Alexander Sutherland, Melbourne and its Metropolis, Melbourne, [c.1888], p. 502. 

27        ‘The Distinguished Member of the Humane Society (Landseer’s unrivalled Newfoundland dog) is Mr Montefiore’s well-known chef d’oeuvre in pen and ink’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 March 1872 , review of the First Exhibition of the New South Wales Academy of Art. 

28        Octavius Levi Montefiore, c.1834–93, merchant, died 4 July 1893, obituary in Table Talk, 14 July 1893. 

29        Christine Downer & Jennifer Phipps, Victorian Vision, Exhibition Catalogue, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1985, pp. 92–93. 

30        Based on notes held in Australian Dictionary of Biography files. 

31        University Archives, University of Melbourne: James Graham papers, Private Letter Book No. 4; the papers contain details of other business dealings with Montefiore, Graham and Co. and with the Australasian Insurance Company. My thanks to the University Archivist, Frank Strachan, for his generous guidance through this extensive collection of documents. 

32        Directories and other sources. One of two new houses, built between the properties of W. W. Dobbs and F. Tate, Montefiore’s house was subsequently occupied by Mrs Robert Gannon, and numbered 14 Murphy Street. 

33        Mitchell Library, Sydney, B.551, in embossed black leather cover. The ornamental title page is inscribed: CARRY/from/Papa/30th March/1864. 

34        Mitchell Library, Sydney, B.848, B.849, B.850; bought from the Bush Book Club, 5 May 1933, and possibly from the estate of Caroline Levi Montefiore who died in Sydney on 14 August 1932. B.849 has drawings dated 1865 and 1866 of Brighton, the Botanical Gardens and Port Adelaide. B.848 and B.850 are later in date, probably 1876–82. 

35        La Trobe Library, Melbourne, Η. 1839 LT Box/M, Kennedy’s [sicbathing ship for gentlemen, drawing, pencil with light wash and scratched highlights, 14.0 x 22.2 cm, oval on prepared yellow-green tinted paper mounted on presentation backing; inscribed on flag of ship, as titled above. Captain William Kenney established his baths in St Kilda in the mid-1850s, around the hulk of an ancient Swedish brig Nancy, which had been abandoned by its crew in Port Phillip in 1854. For a lively and informative account of Kenney’s Baths, see John Butler Cooper, The History of St Kilda, Printers Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1931, pp. 156 ff. 

36        La Trobe Library, Melbourne, Redmond Barry papers, 599/2(k). 

37        Melbourne from the falls 1837 after Robert Russell, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 5594, La Trobe (two impressions), H.2240, H.3831, National Library of Australia; here dated 1866. 

38        William Moore, The Story of Australian Art, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1934, vol. 11, pp. 129–30. Etchings by Home and McCrae have yet to be located or identified. 

39        Edward Levi Montefiore 1826–1906. The entries for Montefiore in Thieme-Becker, Kunstlerlexikon, and following it in Bénézit, completely confuse the brothers Edward and Eliezer under one single entry. For some years Edward acted for the Art Gallery of New South Wales as its Paris adviser. He died at Coucy-le-Château. 

40        The plates that cannot be attributed to Eliezer with complete confidence are:

1.     La mazeppe (The worn-out horse) 1866, after Carel Dujardin AGNSW.5062, La Trobe H.9396. At this period it would be quite usual to copy a seventeenth-century Dutch etching as a student exercise when learning etching. This might be an early experiment by Eliezer. 

2.     (Garden scene – at foot of steps) 1866, AGNSW.5598, La Trobe H.9397. More probably by Edward? 

3.     (Garden scene – woman seated) 1866, AGNSW.5599. Probably by Edward? 

41        Portrait of Ν. Chevalier esq. Fancy dress Rubens 1868, Mitchell P2/117; Port Phillip Heads Australia 1868, La Trobe, (two impressions) H.1514, H.6698, see above and note 19; Pigeon Ray Creek, Banks Peninsula Ν.Ζ. 1868, after N. Chevalier; AGNSW, (two impressions) 5600, 410.1985, Mitchell SV7B/BAN Ρ./1, the drawing is in the National Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, acc. no. 501 (formerly P50A); André Vésale 1868 after Ed. Hamman, AGNSW.5596. 

42        Identified in the Gallery’s 1894 Catalogue (cat. nos 76, 86 (1–4)): Melbourne from the falls 1837/Environs of Sydney/Crossing a Creek N.Z./after … N. Chevalier/Port Phillip Heads/Pigeon Point, Banks Peninsula, N.Z./after . . . N. Chevalier

43        Cat. no. 151, Portrait, in charcoal, drawing; 218, Kapiti Island, N.Z., etching; 219, Still life, watercolour; 220, André Vésale, etching; 221, Pigeon Bay Creek … , etching; 225, The lesson, etching; 226, View in Tahiti, etching; 227, Catching flies, etching; 228, Sketch, charcoal. Etchings survive, particularly because of Eliezer’s gifts of etchings to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1869 and to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1894. 

44        Catalogues of the Victorian Academy of Arts. 

45        La Trobe Library, Melbourne, Australian autograph collection, M.4970. 

46        La Trobe Library Archives, Minutes of the National Gallery Committee. 

47        Argus, February 1871. Montefiore’s main contribution from Sydney was to be the purchase in 1873 of a fine Conrad Martens watercolour Apsley Falls, Acquisition no. Ρ166/1. 

48        Now held by the Department of Prints and Drawings, Art Gallery of New South Wales. 

49        For Cadart and his publications, see Janine Bailly-Herzberg, L’Eau-forte du peintre au dix-neuvième siècle: La Société des Aquafortistes (1862–1867), 2 vols, Léonce Laget, Paris, 1972.

50        Both his uncle, Joseph Barrow, and brother, Jacob Levi, had been patrons of Conrad Martens in the 1840s. 

51        See note 42 above. The watercolour has not been located. There is a small oil painting of the subject in the Wollongong City Art Gallery, and a large finished composition painted in Europe from earlier sketches in the Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand. 

52        Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1899 Catalogue, no. 601, as gift of E. L. Montefiore 1883. It appeared in the 1924 Catalogue, but was transferred to the Education Department in May 1927, and has not been traced since. It is presumed lost. 

53        Report of the Trustees, 1870, in Victorian Parliamentary Papers 1871, vol.2. 

54        Alessandro Varotari, called ‘il Padovanino’, Study of a stooping shepherd boy, drawing, black chalk heightened with white, 36.5 x 26.1 cm, on blue paper mostly discoloured to a dull buff; old attribution in brown ink, lower right; ‘Padovanino’, part of an old attribution, centre right, ‘Padov/’ Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of E. L. Montefiore 1883, inv. 474. 


* fig. 8, Study of a stooping boy now known in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria as Study for a flagellation.