Wednesday, 25 August 2021

The Arthur Streeton painting of the Brown family of Berwick

I was reading Early Days of Berwick (1) and came across the following in the Harkaway chapter - For some time an artist, Mr Ford Patterson [sic], lived on this property. Whilst there he painted on the stable door a stockman which was a very fine piece of work. What became of it is not known. Mr Paterson was the brother of Mrs Geordie Brown, of the Berwick Border Store. Her son represented Australia as a hurdler in the Olympic Games. After her husband's death Mrs Brown married James Gibb, M.H.R. (2).

That was interesting, because it is said (3)  that Arthur Streeton (1867-1943) painted a portrait of the Brown family in their house, Inveresk, at Berwick, but there didn't seem to be any evidence that this family portrait existed, so when I found the reference above about the link between the Brown family and the artist John Ford Paterson (1951-1912), I thought I would investigate further.

John Ford Paterson's Australian Dictionary of Biography entry by Marjorie Tipping, says, in part, as a landscape painter he was not as successful as others in the Heidelberg group. His work was more romantic in mood and his sense of colour, draftsmanship and mystical feeling for the bush placed him among the important Australian artists of the nineteenth century. With such artists as Conder and Roberts he broke away from the Victorian Academy of Art to found the Australian Art Association. In 1888 these organizations amalgamated as the Victorian Artists' Society; Paterson was its president in 1902 (4). The two other men mentioned are Charles Conder (1868-1909) and Tom Roberts (1856-1931).

Clearly, Paterson was an artist of some note, and he knew Arthur Streeton. In July 1888, the fact that they were both elected to the Victorian Artists' Society Council (5) and they exhibited together in May 1892 (6), are examples of some of their connections. This connection strengthened the likelihood in my mind that Arthur Streeton may have painted a portrait of the Brown family at Inveresk.

Inveresk, Berwick, the residence of George Brown, designed 
by Little and Beasley.
Image originally in Building, Engineer and Mining Journal, March 28, 1891 and republished in Berwick Nostalgia: a pictorial history of Berrick (Berwick Pakenham Historical Society, 2001)

Inveresk was built by George Brown, a draper, of Berwick in 1891 (7). George had been in Berwick for many years and was originally married to Margaret Stewart. Margaret was the sister of Susan Bain, the wife of Donald Bain. Donald had established the Border Hotel, also called the Berwick Inn, in High Street Berwick in 1857. Donald and Susan married in 1859 and George and Margaret married in 1864. George and Margaret had one son, George in 1864, who died in tragic circumstances on May 31, 1887 when he was hit by a train. Margaret died July 28, 1884, aged 50 (8).

George Brown married again in January 13, 1887 to Mary Jane Paterson. He was 50 and she was 32 and a widow (9). Her first husband, Thomas Esson, had died in Scotland around 1881 and Mary Jane came to Australia with her son to join other family members, who were already in Melbourne (10). Her son, Thomas Louis Buvelot Esson (1878-1943) was the playwright, poet and Socialist (11). Mary Jane had two other brothers in Melbourne, apart from John Ford Paterson; her brother Hugh was also an artist and the father of artists Esther Paterson (1892-1971) and Betty Paterson (1895-1970). Another brother Charles was a decorator whose firm, Paterson Bros later monopolized the decoration of wealthy homes and such public buildings as Government House, Melbourne Town Hall, the Parliamentary Library and the Prahran Public Library (12).

George and Mary Jane had the one son, Francis Paterson Brown on November 13, 1887 (13). Louis Esson's entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography said that Francis was his mother's favourite and that Louis considered his mother to be flighty and economically irresponsible (14). In 1891, George and Mary Jane built, as we said, Inveresk at 93 High Street, Berwick.   It was made of local Berwick bricks, roofed in slate imported from Wales and designed by architects were Little and Beasley, who had who also designed the Berwick Grammar School  at 76 Brisbane Street (15).  John Little and Hillson Beasley had formed a partnership in January 1891 (16). John Little was later in partnership with John Grainger, the Architect and Civil Engineer, a man overshadowed in life by his famous son, Percy Grainger (17). Hillson Beasley's previous work included the East St Kilda Congregationalist Church on the corner of Hotham and Inkerman Streets and in 1896 he moved to Western Australia where he became the Chief Architect of the Public Works Department (18)

It was at Inveresk that Arthur Streeton was said to have painted the portrait. This has been an on-going mystery for myself and others for many years. In 2013, a colleague of mine, Alice Woolven, asked what I knew of this portrait and she then emailed Dr Anna Gray at the National Gallery of Australia who kindly contacted Oliver Streeton, the grandson of Sir Arthur Streeton and this was his response.

Dr Anna Gray has forwarded on to me your e-mail to her of 8th April. I have no knowledge of a print by Arthur Streeton of “Inveresk”, Berwick, but a portrait of a child, Frank P. Brown '91 has been offered for auction three times, according to the Australian Art Sales Digest record: Joels 22/11/1995 - lot 108 - unsold; Joels 27/11/1996 - lot 111 - unsold; Joels 3/8/1999 - lot 246 - unsold.

The date '91 is possibly a mis-reading of the date inscribed on the painting because there is mention of a visit to Berwick in two letters of Arthur Streeton; to Tom Roberts, June 1892, “... - I’m off this week to Berwick to work at the two £10 commissions I have......” ; to Tom Roberts, 29th June 1892, Berwick Sunday Evening; see the text of these letters in Letters from Smike; the letters of Arthur Streeton 1890 - 1943, edited by Ann Galbally and Anne Gray, Oxford University Press, Australia, 1989 - pp 51 - 54.

There is mention of a possible portrait of Mrs Brown, but I do not know if one exists. When I find a better image of the portrait of young Frank P. Brown, I will try to examine the date to determine what has actually been inscribed. As the painting appears to have remained unsold, I suppose there is a possibility that it can be tracked down from Joels vendor records.

There are two early watercolours by Arthur Streeton, Berwick (Joels, 13/4/1988 - lot 1219 and Joels, 20/4/1993 - lot 150) and Haystacks at Berwick (Joels, 8/11/1978 - lot 521 and Joels, 27/5/1981- lot 509). Both watercolours are undated but appear to me to be in an mid-1880s style. So far I have not come across any reference that would explain Streeton’s visit to Berwick at this time. I attach an image of the Frank P. Brown portrait below.
With best wishes,
Oliver Streeton

Portrait of Frank P. Brown, 1891 by Arthur Streeton,who credited Leonard Joel for the image.

Frank P. Brown - is surely  Francis Paterson Brown, the son of Mary Jane Brown, nee Paterson,  and the nephew of artist, John Ford Paterson. Frank Brown, attended Scotch College, and played for Melbourne and St Kilda in the Victorian Football League. He was an all-round athlete and Australian Hurdles Champion, and represented Australia at the Festival of the Empire Games held in London during the festivities held during the Coronation of King George V in 1911 and won the 120 yards Hurdle at an International meet in Berlin in 1912, but I can find no evidence he competed in the Olympic Games, as stated in the Early Days of Berwick.  Frank served in the A.I. F during World War One. He was the boxing and athletic editor of the Sporting Globe, when he died at only 41 years of age in  November 26, 1928. One of his obituaries in The Herald is written by C.J. Dennis (19).

Francis Paterson Brown during his Scotch College days.

There may well still be a portrait of the Brown family, painted at Inveresk by Arthur Streeton, waiting to be discovered, but I am of the opinion that Arthur Streeton did paint a portrait at Inveresk, but it wasn't of the Brown family, it was of their son, little Frank Brown. 

Thank you to Alice Woolven, Dr Anna Gray and Oliver Streeton. It was Alice, who in 2013, was curious enough to email  Dr Gray, who contacted Mr Streeton. Between the  four of us, we have (1 believe) solved  a mystery. 

(1) Early Days of Berwick and its surrounding districts, compiled by Norman E. Beaumont, James F. Curran and R.H. Hughes (3rd edition published by Rotary, 1979), p. 74. The book was originally published in 1948.
(2) The reason I was looking up Early Days of Berwick was to see what information they had on Franz Schmitt, who had the Steinberg vineyard at Berwick. Early Days of Berwick referred to a property owned by a Lotha Schmidt who operated a vineyard and winery and this was the property that John Ford Paterson lived on for a time.  Franz Schmitt, Lotha Schmidt their vineyards are a story for another time.
George Brown died December 29, 1896 and Mary Jane married James Gibb on July 30, 1898, when she was 43 years old and he was 55.  The Hon James Gibb (1843 - 1919) was the son of Alexander Gibb of Campbellfield. James was the M.L.A for Mornington from 1880 to 1886 and also owned at one time, Melville Park (now Edrington in Berwick, the former home of Lord and Lady Casey).  Gibb was also a draught horse breeder and described as one of the most enterprising farmers in the State - a champion ploughman, gentleman an politician.   He was a Shire of Berwick Councillor for 30 years and the Federal Member for Flinders from 1903 to 1906.  In 1904, Mary Jane Gibb purchased the Tullillan property in Clyde Road. She died on July 30, 1932 aged 78. Read her obituary in the Shepparton Advertiser of August 1, 1932, here.
(3) The Heritage of the City of Berwick, researched by Context P/L and published in 1993, quotes (page 320) A Brief Cultural Review of the City of Berwick by Helen Millicer, which was produced in 1991. I have not seen the Millicer document.
(4) Read John Ford Paterson's entry, written by Marjorie Tipping,  in the Australian Dictionary of Biography
(5) The Argus, July 26, 1888, see here.
(6) The Argus, May 14, 1892, see here.
(7) The Heritage of the City of Berwick, researched by Context P/L and published in 1993
(8) Family information from various notices in the newspapers and Early Settlers of the Casey Cardinia District researched and published by the Narre Warren & District Family History Group in 2010. George Brown, junior married Emily Gissing on August 14, 1885, she was the daughter of George Gissing of St Kilda. You can read an account of the Inquest into his accident in the South Bourke & Mornington Journal, of June 8, 1887, here
(9) Marriage certificate of Mary Jane Esson and George Brown.
(10) Louis Esson's entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, written by D.R. Walker,
(11) Ibid.
(13) Scotch College, Melbourne website
(15) The Heritage of the City of Berwick, researched by Context P/L and published in 1993
(16) The Age, January 3, 1891, see here.
(18) Hillson Beasley - East St Kilda Congregationalist Church  Australian Dictionary of Biography entry
(19) Frank Brown - Football career is listed on the Scotch College website; Other information - Obituary Sporting Globe, November 28, 1928, see here; Obituary The Argus, November 2, 1928, see here; Obituary by C.J. Dennis, The Herald, November 27, 1928, see here.

No comments: