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26 Jul 21

Framers in Focus: John MacLachlan


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

In the 1850’s John MacLachlan, along with R.F. Norton, were the leading frame makers in the rapidly growing city of Melbourne. MacLachlan worked as a frame maker and gilder in Scotland before arriving in Australia in 1853. Two of his sons, Hugh and James, were also qualified carvers and gilders at this time. He opened up a picture framing business on Spring Street, moving to Collins street east in 1857.

Advertisement for Mr. MacLachlan, The Argus, 24 May, 1856, p.8

Unfortunately, we know of no existing frames that can be definitely attributed to MacLachlan. It is likely that his work is represented among the large group of frames for this period for which the frame maker is currently unknown. These frames generally have an ogee (s-shaped) or scotia (scooped) profile, featuring detailed low-relief decoration along the lengths and ornate corner ornaments.

MacLachlan’s business incorporated the display of artworks, and in 1856 he exhibited Eugene von Guerard’s celebrated View of Geelong.1The Age, 5 May, 1856, p.3 This painting was subsequently shown at the Victorian Fine Arts Exhibition in 1857 and the International Exhibition in London in 1862. A photograph from the London display shows View of Geelong and other pictures by von Guerard in impressive cushion profile*A flattish rounded frame moulding. frames with ivy leaf corners.2View of Geelong, now in the collection of the Geelong Art Gallery, retains the frame in which is was shown in 1862. However, it seems most likely that these frames were made in London; in the case of View of Geelong, possibly replacing an earlier frame made by MacLachlan. Henry Eason Davies, Henry Short, and the French artist Monsieur de Mondonville also exhibited works at MacLachlan’s premises, and he may well have supplied the frames for these paintings

MacLachlan seems to have experienced a downturn in patronage of his businesses just as the frame maker Isaac Whitehead came to prominence. In 1861 MacLachlan was declared insolvent; with the causes being ‘depression in business.’3The Herald, 13 Dec. 1861, p.7 He managed to maintain operation of his business until 1869, after which he retired from the profession around 1870.

Biographical notes

John MacLachlan was born in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, around 1806 to Hugh and Catherine. In 1853 MacLachlan arrived in Australia aboard the ship Fame with his wife Elizabeth (nee Campbell) and their seven children; Hugh (b.1831), James (b.1834), Christina (b.1840), Elizabeth (b.1842), Jane (b.1844), John (b.1846) and Henry (b.1848).

He lost two daughters within a few years, Christina in 1860 due to a “lingering illness” and his youngest daughter Jane Allan in 1863. John died on the 18th of August 1877 in Melbourne and his wife passed away in 1881 in St Kilda.

Melbourne business addresses for MacLachlan (based on Maddocks 1999, unless otherwise indicated).

Business name Address Year
John MacLachlan 57 Spring Street 18554The Argus, 17 Oct., 1855, p.1
104 Collins St East 18565The Argus, 24 May, 1856, p.8 , 1857, 1858, 1859, 1860, 1861, 1862, 1863
11 Stephen St6In 1880 Stephen Street was renamed Exhibition Street, after the Royal Exhibition Building that opened that year. 1864, 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869

Further reading

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

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

Notes

1

The Age, 5 May, 1856, p.3

2

View of Geelong, now in the collection of the Geelong Art Gallery, retains the frame in which is was shown in 1862.

3

The Herald, 13 Dec. 1861, p.7

4

The Argus, 17 Oct., 1855, p.1

5

The Argus, 24 May, 1856, p.8

6

In 1880 Stephen Street was renamed Exhibition Street, after the Royal Exhibition Building that opened that year.