26 Jul 21

Framers in Focus: Artistic Stationery Company (James Buxton)


Framers in Focus: A series of essays on 19th century Melbourne frame makers produced by the NGV Centre for Frame Research.

The Artistic Stationery Company operated by James Buxton was a well-known supplier of stationery and artists’ materials in Swanston Street, Melbourne. The company also advertised as printers, engravers, print sellers and picture frame makers. The business was established in 1879 with Buxton trading under his own name until 1881 when the business moved premises and became known as the Artistic Stationery Company. Buxton held exhibitions in the space and most famously it was the venue for the 9 x 5 Impression Exhibition in August 1889.

A newspaper article of 1888 describes the Artistic Stationary Company’s extensive display at the International Exhibition in Melbourne.1The Argus, 23 Oct 1888, p.59 While the firm was well known as stationers, the manufacture of picture frames and mounts was said to also be a very important branch of the business. This piece also includes the inflated statement that with the company was able to supply any frame pattern desired by the artist or owner. Of special note was a large picture frame on display with a sophisticated gilding scheme, including a decorative beading*A moulding with a semi-circular profile. Also called astragal. of real hemp rope that was gilded. Also displayed were German-made machines used for pressing out composition frame ornaments using revolving steel cylinders.

The NGV collection includes only one confirmed frame from the Artistic Stationary Company, on Tranquil winter, 1895, by Walter Withers. This frame consists of an outer frieze*The main flat section of a frame, which can be decorated or left plain, usually with raised mouldings at either side. section and an inner scotia,*A large scooped moulding, generally based on an ellipse while the slip*A narrow inner frame, generally flat or bevelled, that sits within the rebate at the sight edge of the main frame. is a reproduction based on earlier photographs of the frame. Overall, the broad, flat style is related to other frames of this period, however, this frame is unusual in both its ornamentation and finishing.*Surface treatments on a frame, such as gilding, painting or varnishing. Composition decoration featuring putti, medallions and urns in an Italianate style covers the frieze. The gilded finish includes copper leaf as well as the more common false gold (brass foil), with a dark bronzed appearance. Structurally the frame is not strongly made, nor is the composition ornament crisply defined, indicating a slightly lower quality product.


Profile drawing of frame on Walter Withers, Tranquil winter, 1895.

With so few examples identified, it is unclear to what extent the company, and indeed James Buxton as its proprietor, were involved in the hands-on manufacture of frames. It’s possible that much of the framing was based upon the assembly of imported mouldings,*A term generally used to describe a timber length that has been shaped using tools such as scrapers, planes or rotary cutters. It is the basic shape of the frame profile. and/or that frames sold by the company were made by a sub-contractor.

In 1887 Buxton was elected to the Melbourne City Council and was a council member for 10 years.2The Argus, 20 Oct 1930, p.8 In the same year Buxton was involved in a labor dispute with a group of his employees citing “unjust treatment in the matter of overtime for which they receive no extra pay”, with the result in them being dismissed.3Herald, 16 Feb. 1887, p. 4 On a more positive note it is reported that he held annual picnics for his employees and was president of the Melbourne Benevolent Society. The company’s six-story premises were damaged by fire in 1890. 4Leader, 11 Jan 1890, p. 37

The business ceased operation in 1900 and in 1901 Buxton relocated to South Africa. There were several Civil court cases outstanding when he left Australia, including with stationery company Sands and McDougall Limited.

Biographical details

James Thomas Buxton was born in Geelong in 1856 to Joseph and Ann (nee Lomas). Buxton’s father died when he was aged 4 and his mother remarried to Joseph Talford Reaney in 1861. Buxton married Mary Kelly on the 18 January 1882 in St Johns Church, Latrobe Street Melbourne. They had five daughters: Elsie May (b.1883), Rose Mary (b.1884), Zoe Lomas (b.1886), Eva Mercy (b.1888) and Una Alice (b.1897). When James moved to South Africa, it appears that Mary Kelly remained in Melbourne, as she passed away at the age of 88 years in Malvern East. In South Africa he married Martha Deborah Rossouw in 1902 and had another seven children. Buxton returned to Australia with his South African family in 1914 and his occupation was listed as a ‘Stationer’ at 47 Market Street, Sydney. He passed away in 1930 in Burwood, New South Wales.

Melbourne business addresses for Buxton/Artistic Stationary Co. (based on Maddocks 1999, unless otherwise indicated).

Business name Address Year
Buxton, J.T 98a Swanston Street 1879
Artistic Stationery Co. (Man:James Buxton) 69, 71 &131 Swanston Street, & 84 Elizabeth Street 1885*
Artistic Stationary Co. 121 Swanston Street 1890*, 1892-4, 1895^
Buxton Art Gallery 187 Collins Street 1900^

*Listed under Artists’ Colourmen in Sands and McDougall Directory https://prov.vic.gov.au/about-us/our-blog/sands-and-mcdougall-directories-online
^Listed in the Alphabetical listing in Sands & McDougall Directory

Further reading
Dr Hilary Maddocks, ‘Picture Framemakers in Melbourne c.1860-1930’, Melbourne Journal of Technical Studies in Art: Frames, 1999, pp. 1-32.

John Payne, Framing the Nineteenth Century: Picture Frames 1837–1935, The Images Publishing Group Pty Ltd., Mulgrave, Victoria, 2007.

Read more about frames at the NGV’s Centre for Frame Research

Notes

1

The Argus, 23 Oct 1888, p.59

2

The Argus, 20 Oct 1930, p.8

3

Herald, 16 Feb. 1887, p. 4

4

Leader, 11 Jan 1890, p. 37