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Arthur Streeton’s images celebrating the blue and gold palette of Australia’s sun-drenched landscape struck a nationalistic chord during the lead-up to Federation. In early 1896 Streeton travelled to the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury River, between Richmond Bridge and Windsor, where he was inspired by the expansive view looking towards the Blue Mountains. ‘The purple noon’s transparent might’ takes its title from a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley that embraces the natural world – sun, sky, water and mountains – and was painted in two days ‘during a shade temperature of 108 degrees’, in a state of ‘artistic intoxication with thoughts of Shelley in my mind’.
The frame represented here is a reproduction made in 2007 based on the remains of the original frame.
The original frame on the painting was removed around 1940 and sold in a job lot at Joel’s auction house in 1941. Along with a number of Australian paintings in the collection, this one was reframed, with a frame derived from a design by Whistler and made by the Thallon company.
A reproduction of the former frame, based only on photographic evidence, was made in 1995.2 The discovery of the remains of the original frame at the monastery of The Benedictine Community of New Norcia Inc. in 1998 clarified both the form and the finish, providing the basis for a more accurate reproduction in 2007.3
This is an extraordinarily wide frame for the scale of the painting, some twelve inches across, adding two extra feet to the four-foot square image. The frame increases the wall space for the painting by an extra half of its dimension. Streeton appears at times to have had a preference for large-scale frames. This frame, however, is identified in Thallon’s ledger under an entry for National Gallery, 26 October (1898): preparing ornamenting and gilding one frame 6ft. x 6ft. 12’ … £7-4.4 This suggests the frame, or at least its embellishment, may be more reflective of the taste of the Director, Bernard Hall, after the time of acquisition.
The painting was exhibited in Sydney in September 1896 and in Melbourne in December 1896, when it was acquired by the NGV. This entry in the ledger appears not to describe the making of the frame – it presumably was framed for exhibition – but rather the addition of the gilded torus by Thallon. The original maker of the frame remains uncertain, but may be the Sydney frame maker, Callan. At the same time, there are entries in Thallon’s ledger for shipping material to Sydney and for deliveries received by Callan.
The painting appears in the ornamented frame in a photograph from the Loan Exhibition of Australian Art, National Art Gallery of N.S.W., Sydney, April 1918. A similarly wide frame, but without the torus, appears on Streeton’s Fire’s on, 1891, AGNSW, (purchased 1893), displayed at the Victorian Artists Society in 1892.5 The Fire’s on frame is representative of the original form of the frame from ‘The purple noon’s transparent might’, devoid of cast ornament. Similarly, a broad frame with only a band of sanded surface to decorate the border appears on The Golden Fleece, 1894 by Tom Roberts, AGNSW (purchased 1894), seen in photographs from the Tom Roberts Memorial Exhibition held at the Fine Arts Society in June 1932.
The Golden Fleece frame may well be close to the original form of the Streeton frame. It consists of a broad flat surface with a band of sand, possibly set between two channels, bordering a large-scale cavetto slip. It might be argued that the original frame for ‘The purple noon’s transparent might’ was made by Callan in Sydney and consisted of a broad frame, with two channels bordering a strip of painted sand as the only ornamentation of the surface. Without more certain evidence of this form, we have reproduced the frame as we know it to have been when the NGV modified it in 1898.
A frame, very close in form to this one, appears on Buddha, 1906, by Odilon Redon, in the collection of the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
1 The remains of the original frame were examined in detail by Holly McGowan-Jackson whose unpublished report forms the basis of the observations reported here.
2 This reproduction was made by Peter Chaloupka, former frame maker at the NGV.
3 The 2007 reproduction was made by John Payne, Gervais Battour, Holly McGowan-Jackson and MaryJo Lelyveld with gilding by Louise Poon.
4 The dimensions given in the Thallon ledger describe the outer dimensions of the frame, unlike entries with an R, which describe the rebate dimensions.
5 The photograph, in the La Trobe Collection of the State Library of Victoria, is reproduced in Jane Clark & Bridget Whitelaw, Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond, ICCA, 1985, p. 170.
The reproduction frame is built from Western red cedar, cast plaster ornament and gold leaf.
The original frame is built from a simple assemblage of flat planks of softwood timber with a cast plaster ornament of imbricated oak leaves on the inner edge. The plaster sections have been attached with glue and nails. The cross-banding is formed as part of the cast, suggesting that the torus has been cast from an existing finished frame. The rebate is formed by the addition of battens, butt-joined on the reverse. The wide planks, which make up the flat of the frame, are mitred at the corners. The corners were reinforced with triangles of timber. Battens formed the rebate to the slip and ran across the mitre in the vertical direction. The outer edge of the mitre was secured with nails. The flat sections are surfaced with matte water gilding on a white base, with a very thin ochre bole. The imbricated oak torus is a warmer colour and is oil gilded with false gold. The margin on which the torus sits carries the remnant of a sanded surface, formerly painted with bronze paint. The torus is a later addition. The channels either side of the torus have slightly chamfered edges and continue the oil gilding from the torus.1
The original frame is now cut down with part of the broad outer flat section removed and re-attached by screws to the reverse of the working edge. A piece of the frame 60 mm (or 2.½ ins.) wide has been lost. A considerable amount of the oak torus has been lost. Much of the original surface remains, however, and, though deteriorated, gives a reasonable guide to the original finish.