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26 Jul 21

Framers in Focus: John Thallon


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

Holly McGowan-Jackson and Jessica Lehmann

John Thallon was the leading framer of artists and collectors in Melbourne during the 1880s and 1890s. Thallon most likely served an apprenticeship in Scotland with his father who was a cabinet maker. In 1878, he commenced business in Melbourne as a carver and gilder with his brother Thomas, however, from around the late 1880s Thomas was no longer involved with the business.

Prior to starting his business, Thallon was enrolled as a student at the National Gallery of Art School, and in the subsequent years, he continued to paint and exhibit oil and watercolour pictures. Fellow students included Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Jane Sutherland and Hugh Paterson, all of whom eventually became clients of Thallon’s frame making business.

Thallon had strong personal and professional connections within the artistic community and his business premises was located for many years at the upper end of Collins Street where many artists had studios. Only one year into the operation of their business, John and Thomas Thallon received a large-scale commission, a giant 14-foot-high and 9-foot-wide gilded frame, with a 14-inch hand-carved moulding1The Argus, 7 June 1879, p.7, for a crucifixion painting at St Francis Church, the oldest Catholic church in Melbourne. Another indication of the business’ success is a series of advertisements listed in 1881, 1884 and 1889 calling for additional workers to “learn business” at J&T Thallon carvers and gilders. During this period, from 1882–86, Thallon was located in a building at 95 Collins Street that also housed the studios of several artists, including (for a year or so) Tom Roberts, who played a pivotal role in the development of the Impressionist movement in Australia.


Tom Roberts, The Sunny South, (c. 1887) in its original Thallon frame, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1940.

As was common at the time, Thallon provided a range of products and services in addition to picture frame manufacture, including the production of architectural fittings and furniture items, supplying artist materials, and providing frame and picture restoration, art packing and transport. Thallon is recorded to have exhibited both furniture and frames in the 1880 Melbourne International

Exhibition and the 1888–89 Centennial International Exhibition. As promoted on his frame labels, he won first prize at the earlier exhibition, for a console table and glass.

A fascinating artifact that exists from the business is the company ledger (or workbook) for the years 1888–1903. The entries are arranged alphabetically by name and list the work to be undertaken, including dimensions, sometimes a sketch of the frame profile and/or notes on the finish, and the cost of the work.2The ledger is now owned by Jarman Framing who acquired the business in the 1970’s. The ledger is incomplete for clients’ names beginning A-F. It records as Thallon’s customers both amateur and leading artists including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin to name but a few, as well as the Victorian Artists’ Society. Another important client was the National Gallery of Victoria, for the supply of new frames as well as the regilding and restoration of old frames. Thallon also supplied the NGV gilt tablets with hand-painted inscriptions that were attached to frames, providing information about the artworks housed within.

During the 1890s economic depression John was among the many businessmen declared insolvent.3The Argus, 22 Feb. 1894, p.5 The business suffered various financial troubles around this time, with listings of auctions and court cases related to unpaid debts. Fortunately, John Thallon recovered from this financial hardship.

Thallon produced a variety of frame styles over the years. In the 1880s these were mostly classical revival*A nineteenth century frame style based on ancient Greek and Roman architecture. and cassetta*Meaning “little box” in Italian, this type of frame has raised moulding at the inner and outer edges and a flat recessed section between. style frames, often with laurel leaf composition ornament, and decorative fluting*A carved or moulded repeated decoration in the form of parallel, recessed channels. or sanding*The application of a granular material to a tacky surface to create a textured effect. Commonly sand is used, but other materials can be substituted for different effects. It is usually applied to flat sections of the frame.. Most of the frames follow European models in terms of the style and decoration, however, there is one labelled Thallon frame that features gum leaf and gum nut ornament. Thallon also produced the heavily ornamented ‘Rolando’ frame*A frame style named after the artist Charles Rolando, a regular client of Melbourne frame maker John Thallon. Rolando frames are highly ornamented, often including a spiralling leaf ornament at the top edge and a sanded frieze., so-called due to its association with the local artist Charles Rolando, who was a regular customer. From the late 1880s, broad frames with running*Decoration that ‘runs’ or continues without stopping around the frame. laurel or oak leaf*Laurel leaves (also known as bay leaves), often shown with their berries, and oak leaves, are two natural forms often seen in frame ornament, appearing as repeated patterns. plaster ornament appeared regularly. Swept edge*Where the shape of a frame’s top edge is curved in and out, linking corner ornaments (and often centre ornaments) that extend beyond the straight edges of the frame. frames, based on French eighteenth century styles, were another style produced extensively by Thallon from the late nineteenth century through to the early twentieth century.


Corner detail of a frame featuring gum leaf ornament by J. & T. Thallon, dated 1880.

Upon John Thallon’s death in 1918, his wife Jane Thallon continued the business under the management of foreman Ted Burman, who later acquired the company and continued to use the John Thallon business name.

Melbourne business addresses for Thallon (based on Maddocks 1999).

Business name Address Year
Thallon, John and Thomas 105a Collins St East 1878
103 Collins St East 1880
105 Collins St East 1881
95 Collins Street East 1882–1888
Thallon, John 209 Little Collins St 1889
111 Little Collins St 1890
222 Russell St 1891–1892
105 Russell St 1893–1895
122 Little Collins St 1896
122 Little Collins St and Eastern Arcade, 133 Bourke St 1887–1888
39 Eastern Arcade, Bourke St 1889
Thallon, J. (turner & carver) 133 Bourke St and 122 Little Collins St 1901–1908
Thallon, J. (picture framemaker and dealer) 122 Little Collins St 1904–1908
Thallon, J. (turner & carver) 122 Little Collins St 1904–1908
Thallon, J. (turner & carver) 122 Little Collins St 1904–1908
133 Bourke St 1910
133 Bourke St and 120 Little Collins St 1914
133 Bourke St and 122 Little Collins St 1916–1917
Thallon, J. (turner and carver) [Ted Burman manager] 133 Bourke St 1921
Thallon, Mrs J. [Ted Burman manager] 133 Bourke St 1922–1926
Thallon, J. (turner and carver) [Ted Burman manager] 24 Market Lane 1927, 1929

Biographical Notes

John Thallon was born in 1848 in the Markinch parish of Fife Scotland, to Thomas Thallon and Janet Chalmers. He resided there until at least 1861 when he was last listed in the local census. In 1871, at the age of 26, John was listed as living at Westbury on Trym, Gloucestershire, England. Thomas Thallon was his older sibling, born in 1844, and was also listed as living in England in the 1871 census.

Their father, Thomas Thallon, had a range of occupations listed to his name including Master Wright (woodworker), cabinet maker, and wright and glazier with four employees. In England both Thomas and John were listed as cabinet maker apprentices and scholars. The brothers arrived in Melbourne between 1871 and 1876.

On 27 January 1887, John Thallon married Jane Glen Currie, who was originally from Scotland, in South Yarra, Melbourne. Two years previously, both John and Jane had exhibited paintings in the 15th annual exhibition of the Victorian Academy of the Arts. They had three sons, Thomas (b. 1888), David (b. 1890) and John Brunton (b. 1898).

John Thallon died in Hawthorn, Melbourne in 1918 at the age of 70 and was buried in Brighton Cemetery. His wife Jane Thallon lived until the age of 88, passing way in 1953 in Camberwell, Melbourne.

Further reading

Claire Newhouse, ‘John Thallon 1848-1918′, Melbourne Journal of Technical Studies in Art: Frames, The University of Melbourne, 1999, pp.81-98.

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.

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, 7 June 1879, p.7

2

The ledger is now owned by Jarman Framing who acquired the business in the 1970’s. The ledger is incomplete for clients’ names beginning A-F.

3

The Argus, 22 Feb. 1894, p.5