Henry Short arrived in Melbourne with his wife and five children in 1852. Although not a professional artist, he exhibited at most of the Melbourne art exhibitions in the late 1850s and early 1860s, including the first exhibition of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts in 1857. Fish, fruit and flowers was the first work painted in Australia to enter the State Library of Victoria’s collection, the forerunner to the National Gallery of Victoria.
This frame appears to be based, in part, on the frame on Peter Graham’s Autumnal showers, which entered the collection in 1869. There is no record of Fish, fruit,and flowers having been framed in 1861 when the painting entered the collection. The Stevens frame might reliably be regarded as the first framing of the painting, though it dates from ten years later. It reflects the taste of the NGV, rather than the painter, in framing the painting. The frame is a wonderful mixture of detail and broad surfaces and has a surprising impact. Despite the detailed diaper pattern of the frieze section, the frame appears somewhat broad and flat on the painting. The working edge is set in from the front allowing the full weight of the face of the frame to remain in the field of view. Most frames use a course of fine decorative pattern on the back edge, which tends to be in line with or slightly broader than the leading edge, to accentuate the depth of the profile.
1 The NGV register of accounts lists a number of frames made by Stevens, few of which identify the painting. One of note is: Charles West Cope, English 1811–90, The Pilgrim Fathers: Departure of a Puritan family for New England, 1956, oil on canvas, 221.5 x 287.6 cm. Purchased by the Commissioners of Fine Arts for Victoria, 1864 (p.300.10-1). A listing in the register of accounts for 7 February 1871 identifies the frame maker: Stevens paid Feb. 7 1871 for Gilt frame for P. Fathers. I am grateful to Liana Fraser for this reference (from research carried out in various archives for the Conservation Department in 1995). The frame was thought to have been lost but has been identified in storage. The painting appears in the frame in a photo from c. 1872 and in a photo from a newspaper clipping from 1935. There is an interesting story here. The work was painted in 1856, was acquired by the Gallery in 1864 (three years after the collection was started), but was not framed until 1871, some seven years after acquisition. An identical frame appears on Webb’s Rotterdam at sunset, 1868 (p.302.1-1) suggesting Stevens as the maker of that frame also.
2 The restoration was carried out by Senior Conservator of Frames and Decorative Wood Art, NGV, Holly McGowan-Jackson. The moulds for the corner sections were taken from p.302.17-1.
The frame is built up on a wooden chassis with extensive fine composition moulding to large parts of the surface. The timber profile appears to have been machined from a lamination of three pieces of wood. The ogee-shaped frieze carries a fine diaper pattern in the manner of a quilted fabric, most likely pressed from patterned metal rollers. The corners are each elaborated with scrolled pattern work.
The frame was extensively restored in 2001–02, with a large part of the corner sections reconstructed, along with sections of the leading edge.2 The frieze section and slip are in good condition and retain the original surface.