Collection Online
Mental arithmetic
oil on canvas
153.5 × 123.0 cm
Place/s of Execution
Newlyn, England
inscribed in black paint l.r.: T. C. Gotch. 1883-
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of J. S. Gotch Esq., 1884
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

Collection of  the artist's cousin, John Speechly Gotch Esq (1829–1901), Melbourne, 1883; by whom donated to the NGV, 1884.

Exhibited Fletcher’s Art Gallery (dealer), Melbourne, 1884; Victorian Social Conscience, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1976, no. 28

In the summer of 1883, Thomas and Caroline Gotch stayed at Newlyn, on the Cornish coast. While Mrs Gotch recovered from the birth of the couple’s daughter, their only child, Phyllis, Thomas indulged in his love of painting out of doors. Mental arithmetic, in which an elderly fisherman quizzes the young girl who has brought him a cup of tea, is strongly influenced by the plein air naturalism of Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose style Gotch had absorbed while studying art in Paris. Newlyn became a key centre of plein air painting in England.


The basic form of this frame is a solid plank of timber, flat across the reverse and bevelled across the face. The corners are mitred and secured with thin splines set into the reverse across the joints. The outer edge carries a run of egg and dart ornament, the inner edge carries a laurel and berry torus. The addition of a broad flat completes the structure. The bevel is enlivened with fine sand. The surface is a mixture of water gilding (slip and taenia) and oil gilding (torus and flat), now overpainted with a heavy, coloured varnish.
The construction of the frame differs sufficiently from local manufacture, for example the similar frames of John Thallon, to suggest this frame is English in origin despite stylistically being from a French source.
Thallon’s frames would be made from a plank of uniform thickness, with timber strips added across the reverse to build the rebate and outer edges, the corners more likely re-enforced with triangular wooden braces.
Gotch trained in London then studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp and Paris in 1881-3.
Though he exhibited at the Royal Academy, it seems unlikely a frame in this form would be an Academy frame.
The frame on Mental Arithmetic is in the manner of frames revived in France after the middle of the C19th. They appear in the background of paintings and photographs of French artists in their studios from the 1860’s onward. It is possible Gotch was aware of these framing styles in Antwerp and Paris in 1881-3.
Gotch visited relatives in Australia in 1883 and this painting was presented to the NGV by the artist’s cousin J.S. Gotch, Melbourne, 1884.

The painting and frame entering the collection in 1884 provides a possible reference point for a wave of frames in this general form that were made in Melbourne by John Thallon from around this date forward.

Unknown - 19th century

Timber, composition and gold leaf



H 194 cm x W 163 cm x D 8.0cm.