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26 Jul 21

Framers in Focus: Richard Foster Norton


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

Richard Foster Norton, also known as R.F Norton, was one of only a handful of picture framers in 1850’s Melbourne, with John MacLachlan sharing prominence. Both frame makers were part of a huge surge in migration to Victoria with the discovery of gold in the colony in 1851. Over the decade Melbourne’s population increased from around 20,000 to 140,000.1, Only Melbourne, History of Melbourne, www.onlymelbourne.com.au/history-of-melbourne-581, accessed 22 May, 2020. 2City of Melbourne, ‘1850s: Gold rush’, Building Melbourne, www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/about-melbourne/melbourne-heritage/history/Pages/building-melbourne.aspx, accessed 22 May, 2020. By the late 1850’s Norton was one of ten carvers and gilders listed in the Melbourne business directories.


Detail showing Norton’s premises at 83 Collins St East from an engraving The New Fountain, Melbourne, c.1860-1865. Calvert, Samuel, engraver. Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria.

Prior to his arrival in Australia, Norton is listed in England as having the occupation of painter. It appears that he established his business in Melbourne in late 1854 or January 1855, for a short time in partnership with Charles Yorke who was also an undertaker. In May 1855 Norton advertised independently as a Print seller, Carver, Gilder and Picture Frame manufacture, in the same year seeking both a joiner and composition picture frame mounter for the business3The Argus, 25 April 1855, p.1 and 11 June 1855, p.1 . He also imported artists materials and undertook painting restoration and frame regilding.

Norton diversified his business further, exhibiting and selling pictures by local and overseas artists, as well as mirrors and small pieces of furniture, supplying the growing demand for artworks and decorative furnishings in the colony. In 1857 Norton displayed paintings by local artists William Short, Henry Easson Davies, Arthur Horace Burkitt, and the recently arrived artist Thomas Clark either at his premises or at the Geelong Mechanics Institute exhibition. It is likely that at least some of these artworks were also framed by Norton.

Norton was no stranger to controversy. In 1856 after he received a prize for an ‘ornamental centre flower’ in The Industrial Society’s Exhibition, Henry Baker, carver and gilder of Bourke Street, wrote to The Argus in frustration, claiming the centre piece was not made by Norton but was of French production purchased 14 years earlier.4The Argus 2 Dec. 1856, p. 6

There are at least six frames in existence that are conclusively made by Norton, dating from the late 1850’s to the mid 1860’s. The frames are a similar general style but display diverse ornament patterns and other details. Most recently discovered, for sale at auction in the UK, is the frame on A portrait of Queen Victoria after Franz Winterhalter, attributed to Nicholas Chevalier.5Dominic Winter Auctioneers, Lot 438 (British & European Paintings and Watercolours, Old Master & Modern Prints and Drawings, 31st July 2020), www.dominicwinter.co.uk/Auction/Lot/438-chevalier-nicholas-1828-1902-attributed-to-queen-victoria-after-winterhalter-circa-1857-1861/?lot=360246&so=4&st=Chevalier&sto=0&au=&ef=&et=&ic=False&sd=1&pp=48&pn=1&g=1, accessed 20 Aug., 2020. The address on the Norton frame label dates the frame to 1857-1861. This frame is heavily ornamented with an acanthus leaf-and-shield pattern at the centre, and a twisted ribbon-and-stick design at the outer edge. It has small acanthus leaves covering the mitre at each corner.

In contrast, there are large ornate corners on Norton’s frame for Natives discovering the body of William John Wills, the explorer, at coopers Creek, June 1861, by Eugene Montagu Scott dated 1862 or 1864 (State Library of Victoria). The framer’s label indicates a date of 1862-1865. This frame is highly decorative with a detailed scrolling pattern on the main part of the frame, and bird’s heads incorporated in the design at the inner part of the frame.


Corner detail of the Norton frame for Natives discovering the body of William John Wills, the explorer, at Coopers Creek, June 1861, by Eugene Montagu Scott. Image courtesy State Library Victoria.

The remaining four Norton frames are in a classical revival in style with a distinctive egg-and-foliate ornament and a curved shape to the top part of the slip. They are for the pictures Thomas Clark’s Portrait of His Excellency Sir Henry Barkly, Governor of Victoria, 1864 (National Portrait Gallery) and William Strutt’s three small paintings Officer and men of the Victorian Police Force 1861 (Art Gallery of South Australia).6,https://www.portrait.gov.au/portraits/2007.43/portrait-of-his-excellency-sir-henry-barkly-governor-of-victoria 7https://www.agsa.sa.gov.au/collection-publications/collection/works/officer-and-men-of-the-victoria-police-force/33670/ .

In the early 1860’s leading artists such as Nicholas Chevalier and Eugene von Guerard adopted Isaac Whitehead as their preferred framer. This shift to Whitehead seems to mark the beginning of the demise of Norton’s business, which is last listed in the business directories in 1865. In this year Norton was involved in several civil law cases, one of which was with the landlord of his business premises. Norton’s son John, who trained as a frame maker as well as a photographer, married and migrated to the United States in 1870. It appears that Norton Senior, his wife and two younger daughters also moved to the U.S.A., possibly in the same year.

Biographical notes

Richard Foster Norton was born on the 24th July 1822 in Yelvertoft, Northamtonshire, England to Mary Ann and Richard Norton. In 1844 Norton married Maria Blundell Wise and had four children; Rose Maria (b.1845), Richard Frederick (b.1847), John Wise (b.1849) and Ann Julia (b.1853). It appears that the family migrated to Australia in late 1853 or 1854. In Australia Richard and Maria had two more children Sarah (b.1855, d.1860) and Lilly Emily Mary (b.1865). In 1864 Norton’s eldest son Richard Frederick died aged only 17. As noted, it seems that Richard and his family migrated to the USA as the New York census of 1892 lists Richard, his wife and youngest daughter Lilly. Richard died on 1st March 1894 aged 71 years and was buried at the Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.8Find A Grave, ‘Memorials’, www.findagrave.com/memorial/186849002/rchard-foster-norton, accessed 22 May, 2020.

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

Business name Address Year
Norton, Richard F. 87 Collins St East 18559The Argus, 28 May 1855, p.8
83 Collins St East 1857-1861
80 Collins St East 1862-1865

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

Only Melbourne, History of Melbourne, www.onlymelbourne.com.au/history-of-melbourne-581, accessed 22 May, 2020.

2

City of Melbourne, ‘1850s: Gold rush’, Building Melbourne, www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/about-melbourne/melbourne-heritage/history/Pages/building-melbourne.aspx, accessed 22 May, 2020.

3

The Argus, 25 April 1855, p.1 and 11 June 1855, p.1

4

The Argus 2 Dec. 1856, p. 6

5

Dominic Winter Auctioneers, Lot 438 (British & European Paintings and Watercolours, Old Master & Modern Prints and Drawings, 31st July 2020), www.dominicwinter.co.uk/Auction/Lot/438-chevalier-nicholas-1828-1902-attributed-to-queen-victoria-after-winterhalter-circa-1857-1861/?lot=360246&so=4&st=Chevalier&sto=0&au=&ef=&et=&ic=False&sd=1&pp=48&pn=1&g=1, accessed 20 Aug., 2020.

8

Find A Grave, ‘Memorials’, www.findagrave.com/memorial/186849002/rchard-foster-norton, accessed 22 May, 2020.

9

The Argus, 28 May 1855, p.8