Print room auction end of Melbourne era

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 29th April, 2019

The 2018 closing of the Joshua McClelland Print Room and the family-associated Rathdowne Galleries in Carlton is the end of an important era in Melbourne’s and Australia’s art market.

Leski Auctions has been asked to auction the paintings, prints, porcelain and furniture from 12pm Sunday May 5 at 727-729 High Street, Armadale – bringing to a close a Melbourne icon that was established in 1927 by Joshua McClelland when he set up an antiques business in his own name.

McClelland died in 1956 and his wife Joan continued the business which by then had changed name to its present day nomenclature.

According to one of her daughters, Philippa Kelly, in a paper presented in 2004 to the Fifth Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the name of the business was always a misnomer – for it never solely exhibited prints, either contemporary or otherwise.

“But prints were always a core part of the business and do form a sort of continuum,” she said.

“What is perhaps interesting then is to look at the changing taste in prints that were exhibited and, in parallel, how the gallery adapted to, followed or led such changes.”

Much of its influence on current trends has no doubt been helped by the NGA taking many of the Print Room’s paintings and prints in the Canberra gallery’s early collecting years.  

Until it finally ended up in Carlton, the Joshua McClelland Print Room had moved six times around Melbourne’s CBD – always in Little Collins or Collins Street – dictated largely by expansion or contraction of the business and a desire by McClelland to remain near where he grew up in Flinders Street in a house on the site that later became the Herald and Weekly Times offices.

Leski Auctions describes the McClellands as eclectic, exotic, unusual, decorative, surprising, traditional and ultra-modern – which virtually covers every aspect of Australia’s art market.

“Some of the items in our (475 lot) catalogue have not been seen for decades,” it says.

Highlights include Joseph Lycett (1774-1828) views of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) and Liverpool in New South Wales (lots 27-31).

John Skinner Prout (1805-1876) views of Melbourne and Geelong feature prominently in lots 587-63, while George French Angas (1822-1886) South Australian renditions are on show from lots 64 to 80.

A woman washing clothes by a window is the subject matter of Dutch artist Matthjis Maris (1839-1917) oil on board painting (lot 123) and Claude Arthur Marquet’s (1869-1920) political cartoon (probably for Melbourne Punch) depicts trade union strongman Chris Watson as the organ grinder with Australia’s second Prime Minister Alfred Deakin as his dancing monkey and political heavyweight Sir George Reid as the wealthy onlooker (lot 142).

Both Watson and Reid succeeded Deakin as Prime Minister between 1903 and 1905.

Other artists to feature in the auction include Penleigh Boyd’s watercolour Half Moon Bay (lot 155), Dora Serle’s oil on board Cat in Dappled Sunlight (lot 168) and Ethel Spowers’ Collins Street, 1926 linocut (lot 170).

For those auction goers keen on Asian artistry, the Chinese famille vert vase (lot 346) and pair of Chinese bronze and enamel vases (lot 347) should hold special appeal.

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