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Grandmother's reading lesson

Grandmother's reading lesson
(c. 1880)

oil on canvas
74.7 × 106.2 cm
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by friends of the artist, 1885
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
19th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International

Remained with the artist until her death in 1885; presented from her Estate by friends, 1885.

Images of children receiving reading lessons are first found in seventeenth century Holland and neighbouring countries. In the context of the Protestant Reformation and a shift in social values, the ability to read was crucial, as it was through an independent knowledge of the scripture that people gained access to God. Here Victorian era artist Eleanor Bell intentionally evokes these moral concerns through her use of a brownish, recognizably Dutch, palette. The light falling across the young girl’s face and her opened ‘picture Bible’ dramatises the moment of mental illumination, a device also seen in Rembrandt’s Two old men disputing.


Original, by J & T Thallon, Melbourne

Unlike the majority of Thallon frames in the collection, this one uses small-scale decorative work with an overall pattern to the outer edge. The familiar frame for Thallon at this time is the fluted scotia, classical revival form. This frame is more attuned to the decorative frames of the previous decade and might be compared to similar frames from Isaac Whitehead. The frame on the Bell is the first in the collection, chronologically, to appear in this form.


1 Hilary Maddocks, ‘Picture Framemakers in Melbourne c. 1860–1930’ in vol. 1, Frames, Melbourne Journal of Technical Studies in Art, University of Melbourne Conservation Service, 1999.

J. & T. Thallon
95 Collins Street East, Melbourne

The frame uses composition ornament on a wooden chassis. The inner scotia is fluted. The large scale ovolo to the outer edge carries pressed ornament. The leading edge is reeded. The whole surface appears to be water gilded; burnished, on a grey bole on the taenia and matte on a red bole on the reeding. The composition areas appear to be gilded on a white ground. The slip is water gilded and carries a matte size. The working edge is painted. The mitres of the fluted scotia are covered with moulded acanthus leaves.


There are some losses in the ornaments. The mitres are open but the surfaces present as aged and original. The mitres have been re-enforced on the reverse in a recent treatment.

105 x 135.5 x 8.0 cm; sight 73.0 x 103.0 cm