26 Jul 21

Framers in Focus: J. Caro


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

J. Caro was a wholesale picture frame manufacturer and art dealer operating in Melbourne in the 1890s. The firm advertised the supply of pictures and mouldings to the trade, with show card framing and advertising work a specialty.1 As described on the frame labels the firm also undertook the ‘retouching’*A process where replaced ornament or small losses in the gilding or gesso are disguised by painting over the loss using stable conservation grade paints. (that is restoration) of pictures.

The identity of the frame maker J. Caro is not certain. The business appears to be connected to Jacob Caro, who for many years operated an ironmongering and general importing firm in Melbourne. Around 1880-81 Jacob sold the ironmongering company and by September 1887 he had returned to Germany.2Barb Humphreys, The supposed murders at New Bendigo, Maryborough Family History Group Inc., http://sites.rootsweb.com/~ausmfhg2/MembersStories.html, accessed 8 Oct 2020. There are no record of him coming back to Melbourne. Being a successful businessman, it is possible he established the frame making business and either sold it on or had it managed by others, while retaining the J. Caro name.

Jacob’s nephews Adolf and Alwin established a hardware and merchandise importing firm known as Caro Brothers, which by 1889 was located at 366 Little Collins St, where the business remained for the next 45 years.3ibid In 1890 and between 1893 and 1896, J. Caro wholesale picture frame manufacturer was located in close proximity to Caro Brothers, at 367 Little Collins St., suggesting a connection between the businesses.4Another connection of Adolf Caro to frame making was that he lists as trustee on his will Alfred Le Gassick, who was a picture frame maker operating in Melbourne the early 1900’s.

Issmar Caro was listed with an occupation of frame maker in the Victorian Rate books for the City of Prahran in 1891, and although the connection to Jacob has not been confirmed, he may have been involved in the J. Caro framing business in the 1890s.5Ancestry.com. Public Record Office Victoria; North Melbourne, Australia; Series Title: 2344/P Microfilm Copy of Rate Books, City of Prahran [1856-1901], accessed 9 Oct 2020.


Frame detail and profile drawing for James Webb, Salisbury – After the floods.

We know of one extant frame by J. Caro, on Salisbury – After the floods by James Webb dated 1887. This classical revival style frame dates to the mid-1890s based on the address on the framer’s label. It is richly ornamented with crisp composition ornament, including acanthus leaves in the main cove and is gilded throughout.


Frame label from James Webb, Salisbury – After the floods.

We know of two other labelled examples by Caro, both with elaborate ornamentation. One has been composed from lengths of stock frame moulding*A moulding that is mass-produced in lengths, and cut to size and assembled to form a frame. , cut to size and assembled. The second frame features a detailed acorn and oak leaf pattern.6The frames are in a private collection and at the State Library of Victoria, respectively. They are illustrated in Elizabeth Cant, ‘The Deportment of Paintings: The history of nineteenth century Australian picture frames’, MA Thesis, The Flinders University of South Australia, 1998, figures 162 & 163. The detailed and shallow nature of the ornament suggests it may have been produced using a compo pressing machine. Given the Caro family’s extensive experience importing goods, it seems possible that the business imported frame mouldings, in addition to manufacturing frames in-house.

Biographical details

Jacob Caro was born in 1830 in Prussian Poland to Polish Jewish parents Cheim Jacob Caro and Kele Sommerfeldt. In 1852 Jacob and his brother Raphael travelled to Australia on different vessels (the James Carson and the Coldstream). Jacob Caro was naturalised as a British citizen in the colony of Victoria in 1857. Sadly, Jacob’s brother Raphael was murdered near Avoca in 1858 while working as a travelling hawker and was buried in the Jewish section of the Maryborough Cemetery.7Humphreys, accessed 8 Oct 2020.

In 1872 Jacob Caro’s nephew Adolf Caro arrived in Melbourne and joined Jacob in the iron mongering and importing business. Later Adolf established Caro Brothers with his brother Alwin, who observed in his diary that his Uncle Jacob had been highly respected in Melbourne.8ibid

Following his return to Germany in 1887, Jacob married Olga Louise Lewig and they had a daughter Rosa in Hamburg in 1888. On the 27th February 1909 Jacob passed away in Hamburg. The Melbourne Argus reported that retired merchant Jacob Caro’s estate remaining in Victoria included £2120 of real estate, which was left to his widow and daughter.9The Argus, 5 Oct 1909, p.7.

Very little information has been uncovered about the frame maker Issmar Caro, who may have been involved with the Caro framing business.10In January 1884 a passenger with the surname Caro, and the initial either I. or J., (aged 26 years), arrived in in Melbourne aboard the ship Raruma, having embarked from Brindisi, Italy.(7) This may have been Issmar Caro. Ancestry.com. Series: 7667; Series Title: Unassisted Inward Overseas Passenger Lists (Foreign Ports) [Microfiche Copy of VPRS 947], accessed 9 Oct 2020. In the 1890’s he lived at both number 34 & number 9 Lewisham Rd, Prahran, while the 1903 electoral role lists him at 4 Bond Street, South Yarra, living with four family members. His occupation by this time appears to be insurance agent.11Ancestry.com. Australia, Electoral Rolls: South Yarra, Southern Melbourne, Victoria, 1903, accessed 9 Oct 2020.

Melbourne business addresses for J. Caro (based on Maddocks 1999*, unless otherwise indicated).

Business name Address Year
J.Caro 367 Little Collins St 1890^
435 Swanston Street 1891, 1892
367 Little Collins 1893 1894, 1895, 1896
225 Little Collins Street 1897, 1898

*These include businesses listed under ‘Carvers, gilders, picture framemakers and printsellers’. Listings under other trade categories are not shown.

^Listed in the Alphabetical section in Sands & McDougall Directory, 1890

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.

Barb Humphreys, The supposed murders at New Bendigo, Maryborough Family History Group Inc., http://sites.rootsweb.com/~ausmfhg2/MembersStories.html, accessed 8 Oct 2020.

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

Notes

1

Sands & McDougall Directory, Alphabetical section, 1890.

2

Barb Humphreys, The supposed murders at New Bendigo, Maryborough Family History Group Inc., http://sites.rootsweb.com/~ausmfhg2/MembersStories.html, accessed 8 Oct 2020.

3

ibid

4

Another connection of Adolf Caro to frame making was that he lists as trustee on his will Alfred Le Gassick, who was a picture frame maker operating in Melbourne the early 1900’s.

5

Ancestry.com. Public Record Office Victoria; North Melbourne, Australia; Series Title: 2344/P Microfilm Copy of Rate Books, City of Prahran [1856-1901], accessed 9 Oct 2020.

6

The frames are in a private collection and at the State Library of Victoria, respectively. They are illustrated in Elizabeth Cant, ‘The Deportment of Paintings: The history of nineteenth century Australian picture frames’, MA Thesis, The Flinders University of South Australia, 1998, figures 162 & 163.

7

Humphreys, accessed 8 Oct 2020.

8

ibid

9

The Argus, 5 Oct 1909, p.7.

10

In January 1884 a passenger with the surname Caro, and the initial either I. or J., (aged 26 years), arrived in in Melbourne aboard the ship Raruma, having embarked from Brindisi, Italy.(7) This may have been Issmar Caro. Ancestry.com. Series: 7667; Series Title: Unassisted Inward Overseas Passenger Lists (Foreign Ports) [Microfiche Copy of VPRS 947], accessed 9 Oct 2020.

11

Ancestry.com. Australia, Electoral Rolls: South Yarra, Southern Melbourne, Victoria, 1903, accessed 9 Oct 2020.