Anthony Alder’s ‘Heron’s home’

BLOG-Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 Heron's home 1895
Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 / Heron’s home 1895 / Oil on canvas / Purchased 2011 with funds from the Estate of Jessica Ellis through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Once a prominent colonial Queensland artist, Anthony Alder and his works had all but vanished from public memory until, in 2011, his descendants’ estate was offered to the State Library of Queensland. Here, we reintroduce you to one of his works.

Art history is a process of continually rediscovering the past and reinterpreting it for contemporary audiences. Anthony Alder (1838–1915) is a significant Queensland colonial artist, apart from being the most prominent taxidermist in colonial Queensland, and widely admired for his dioramas when he entered employment with the Queensland Museum, he was also a painter of substance. Unfortunately, over the years, the appeal of his dioramas was forgotten and, apart from a major painting, Not game 1895, which was occasionally on view at the Museum, knowledge of his work also slipped into oblivion.

Alder was born at Stroud, Gloucestershire and trained in the family’s taxidermy and casting business, Alder and Company, in Islington, London. He spent time working in Queensland from 1862 but returned to England on the death of his father in 1864; after the death of his mother in 1874, he returned and settled permanently in Queensland. Although he did not exhibit with the Queensland Art Society (est. 1887), Alder established a significant exhibition profile. He sought to emulate the work of ornithologist Silvester Diggles (1817–80) (Queensland’s most famous bird painter, who published Synopsis of the Birds of Australia in 1877) and produced grisaille watercolour sketches that were published from 1894 to 1900 in the Queenslander, the state’s most important weekly newspaper.

Alder also produced oil paintings and submitted several of these in what were essentially the first of the Queensland National Agricultural and Industrial Association (QNA) annual exhibitions. He received an award for Not game in the QNA of 1895, from where it was purchased by the state government for the Gallery but is now in the Queensland Museum’s collection, and was also awarded the prize at the same exhibition for Lincoln sheep, homeward Laddie, also 1895, which depicts the renowned stud flock at ‘Glengallan’, just outside Warwick.

BLOG-Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 Lincoln sheep, Homeward Laddie 1895
Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 / Lincoln sheep, Homeward Laddie 1895 / Oil on canvas / Collection: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland / ACC: 28082

A reassessment of Alder’s work was inspired when the work Lincoln sheep, homeward Laddie emerged from the collection of Alder’s descendants and was offered to the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) in 2011. The SLQ has a special interest in ‘Glengallan’, as it holds the archive of the property which was donated by the widow of William Ball Slade’s eldest son, Oswald, in 1958. At Slade’s time, the property was one of the showplaces of the Darling Downs; the homestead itself, a sandstone mansion built in 1867, was rescued from dereliction and restored as the Glengallan Homestead and Heritage Centre. Slade called on Alder’s skills as a taxidermist, and this may have been the occasion for Alder to produce the work which, in a sense, is a record of the passing of the colonial squattocracy, as the property began to be broken up in 1895. Large-scale landscapes such as this are extremely rare in colonial Queensland.

BLOG-Glengallan House2
Photographer unknown / Front entrance of Glengallan homestead c.1894 / Collection: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland / ACC: 84-11-1; Negative number: 47292 /
BLOG-Glengallan House1
Photographer unknown / Glengallan House, From ‘Views of Queensland’ Photograph Album, c.1875 / Collection: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland / APO 26; ACC: 6193; Image No: APO-026-0001-0016 /

In mid 2011, Dianne Byrne, the SLQ’s Curator of Heritage Collections, advised the Gallery that Heron’s home 1895 was also available to a public collection. It was one of the two works Alder included in the 1897 Queensland International Exhibition (cat.95), and shared the exhibition with Josephine Muntz-Adam’s Care c.1893, the first Australian work purchased by the Queensland National Art Gallery (now Queensland Art Gallery).

BLOG-Josephine Müntz-Adams, Australia 1861-1949 Care c.1893
Josephine Müntz-Adams, Australia 1861-1949 / Care c.1893 / Oil on canvas on composition board / Purchased 1898 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Now restored, Heron’s home provides a marked counterpoint in detail and decorative appeal, and represents his skills in depicting natural history subjects — the area in which Alder forged his reputation.


Read more about the cleaning of this work and watch as Anthony Alder’s original colours are restored in Heron’s home showing the full tonal range and sharpness of image

The subject of this important painting is a pair of Nankeen night herons (Nycticorax caledonicus), which are named after the buff-coloured Nankeen cloth formerly produced in the Chinese city of Nanjing (Nanking). These herons are native to large parts of Australia and frequent well-vegetated wetlands, river margins and mangroves around Brisbane. Here, they are depicted in a beautifully rendered naturalistic riverine setting within a larger Queensland landscape.

One of our current projects involves cleaning another work by Alder. Here is a peek at Red-tailed Black Cockatoos c.1895 before conservation.

BLOG-Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 (Red-tailed Black Cockatoos) c.1895
Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 / (Red-tailed Black Cockatoos) c.1895 (before conservation) / Oil on canvas / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Moving Pictures: Towards a rehang of Australian Art

Until 6 Aug 2017 | QAG | Free

Built on each other: Grace Crowley and Ralph Balson
R Godfrey Rivers: ‘Under the jacaranda’
Charles Blackman: ‘The Blue Alice’
William Dargie: ‘Portrait of Albert Namatjira’
Anthony Alder: Cleaning ‘Heron’s home’
Jeffrey Smart: ‘The traveller’ 

Edmund Rosenstengel provided the benchmark of excellence in his field

Edmund Rosenstengel (Designer) 1887–1962; Ed. Rosenstengel (Manufacturer) 1922–58 | Chest of drawers c.1934 | Queensland maple with hand carved details, Wedgwood plaque and metal fittings. Black Vitrolite glass top | Purchased 2012 with funds from Miss Valmai Pidgeon through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Edmund Rosenstengel, the most highly regarded furniture maker in Brisbane from the 1920s to the 1950s, provided the benchmark of excellence in his field for several generations. This acquisition, purchased for the Collection with the generous assistance of Valmai Pidgeon, AM, is a piece that Rosenstengel made for himself.

Edmund Rosenstengel (1887–1962) was born in Toowoomba, where he was apprenticed in 1902 to Rosenstengel & Kleimeyer, his father’s cabinetmaking business. He was later to work in Sydney, Auckland, Vancouver, and the Grand Rapids in the United States, as well as in England and Europe, before returning to Toowoomba to rejoin the family firm in 1911. In 1922, he settled in Brisbane and established a business of his own in Fortitude Valley, where he remained until his retirement in 1958. Rosenstengel’s work was distinguished by the use of Queensland timbers, particularly Queensland maple and silky oak, together with elaborate carving and marquetry inlay.

Popular items included black-stained oak dining tables and sideboards in the Jacobean style, suited to the ‘Tudor residences’ and ‘Spanish mission villas’ that were popular in the fashionable suburbs of Brisbane from the late 1920s. Other popular suites of furniture, for dining and bedrooms, were made in a simplified Queen Anne style. His most exceptional works date from the 1930s and follow the Edwardian taste for period revival styles. The Duke of Gloucester (later the Governor-General of Australia, 1945–47) toured Australia in 1934 to participate in the centenary celebrations of the state of Victoria; during his visit to Brisbane, he slept in a suite of Louis XV-style furniture specially commissioned by the Queensland Government for Government House.

Chest in Rosenstengel family home_72dpix570w
Chest of drawers photographed in Rosenstengel’s home in Harcourt Street, New Farm
The use of Wedgwood’s blue and white cameo reflects the inspiration of Neoclassicism

The furniture Rosenstengel made for his own home in Harcourt Street, New Farm, such as this chest of drawers, was of equivalent quality. The chest follows the model of that in the Government House suite but the bound reeds at the corners (fasces) reflect the inspiration of Neoclassicism in the succeeding period of Louis XVI. This is emphasised by the use of Wedgwood’s blue and white cameos, which were widely used in English furniture of the late eighteenth century. A contemporary element is added by the black glass (vitrolite), which protects the top surface.

After surviving the Depression and the restrictions of World War Two, Rosenstengel was able to return to active business — indeed, by the early 1950s, his workforce and output rivalled those of the pre-war years. However, around this time, Rosenstengel’s health began failing, and he announced the closure of the company in 1956. A final flurry of orders from his loyal clientele required him to remain in business until March 1958, at which time he finally closed up rather than risk tarnishing his reputation.

Chest of drawers is currently on display in the Australian art collection display in the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries, Queensland Art Gallery (QAG).

Installation view of Chest of drawers at the Queensland Art Gallery

A glimpse of Queensland’s history

Flavelle, Roberts & Sankey 1892–1949, Retailer | Bracelet c.1910 | Australian gold with nine linked shells each set with a pearl, with similar detachable pendant | Original fitted case marked ‘Flavelle Roberts & Sankey Ltd. Brisbane, Rockhampton & London’ | Purchased 2011 with funds from the Estate of Kathleen Elizabeth Mowle through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

This gold and pearl bracelet is a lovely example of work by the local firm Flavelle, Roberts & Sankey, and represents the jeweller’s skill as well as providing a glimpse of Queensland’s history.

This charming gold bracelet is the most significant piece of Queensland jewellery to come to the Gallery’s notice in recent years. The delicacy and refinement of the bracelet suggests that it may have been a special commission by a doting father for a favourite daughter. It consists of nine shells fashioned from Australian gold, each set with a small natural pearl, linked together with a larger detachable shell and pearl at the centre.

A newspaper advertisement in 1902 stated that Flavelle, Roberts & Sankey cut and polished gemstones and dealt in Queensland sapphires, opals and pearls; the pearls in this bracelet were probably harvested in north Queensland. Pearling was the largest industry in far north Queensland in the 1890s — in 1896, for instance, Thursday Island was home to 300 Japanese pearlers, a Japanese consul was based in Townsville, and pearling was the only industry ever exempted from the White Australia policy. The cast shell forms in this bracelet have a connection with Queensland: according to Dr John Healy, Curator Mollusca at the Queensland Museum, the shells are most likely from a Turbo snail (either Turbo brunneus or Turbo intercoastalis), as both have spirally grooved shells and a wide distribution, which takes in Queensland coastal waters.

Flavelle Bros. & Co was originally established in Brisbane in 1863. James Nash, the discoverer of the Gympie goldfields in 1868, brought the first consignment of 621 ounces of gold to Brisbane for Mr Flavelle to test and weigh. The resultant financial stimulus to the colonial economy put Queensland on the map. The firm later became Flavelle Bros. and Roberts before establishing itself as Flavelle, Roberts & Sankey in 1892, and opening a Rockhampton branch in December 1894. It moved to larger premises in the main street, East Street, within two years, and was still operating there more than 30 years later. Although largely a retail business, their silversmithing, watchmaking and optical work suggests that they were more than able to make jewellery as well as sell it, in Brisbane if not Rockhampton.

Indeed, by 1908, they described themselves as ‘manufacturing jewellers’. That year, for the Queensland Court of the Franco–British Exhibition in London, a promotional adjunct to their display of Queensland gemstones, titled ‘From Outer Darkness’, included reports of their exhibit at the ‘Melbourne Exhibition of Women’s Work’ in the previous year. This attracted the attention of Queen Alexandra. As a further mark of esteem, in 1909 the firm was appointed as gem merchant to Australia’s Governor General, the Earl of Dudley.

From the very beginning of the business, they had imported the finest English porcelains, and in later years, established a local reputation for Royal Worcester porcelain decorated with floral studies, after designs by Marian Ellis Rowan. Over the decades, Flavelle, Roberts & Sankey was a worthy competitor to rival businesses like Hardy Bros. and Wallace Bishop, but eventually closed in 1949.

This Queensland gold and pearl bracelet is currently on display in the new Australian art collection display in the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries, Queensland Art Gallery (QAG).


Marks on Hunt and Roskell’s ‘Presentation vase’ 1864

Hunt & Roskell, England 1843–1897 | Presentation vase 1864 | Sterling silver, cast and chased | Purchased 2009 with funds through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 30th Anniversary Appeal | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

This magnificent Presentation vase is the most important example of Victorian silver in the Gallery’s Collection. Its elaborate decoration is unlike anything produced in the Australian colonies, though the beautifully cast and chased kangaroos and an emu (as well as a camel) around the base suggest that it was commissioned with an Australian connection in mind.

It is believed that the vase was presented to Charles Joseph Latrobe (1801-75) who was Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of Victoria from 1851 to 1854, before he returned to England. Removing inscriptions from presentation pieces when sold was quite common; it also removed any suggestion of financial difficulty for the owner.

Sterling silver is the British term that describes and alloy of silver containing 92.5% by weight of silver and 7.5% by weight of other metals, usually copper. This alloy gives strength to the silver while at the same time preserving the ductility and beauty of the precious metal. Silver marked 925 is the European equivalent.

Over the years, most countries in the world have developed their own systems of hallmarking silver. A hallmark is used to indicate the purity of the silver alloy used in making the piece; to identify the silversmith or the company that made the piece; and to note the date and/or the location where the piece was made.

British silver has been hallmarked with great consistency since the end of the 12th century and it represents one of the earliest forms of consumer protection. These hallmarks indicate that the article has been independently tested at an Assay Office and they guarantee that it conforms to the legal standards of precious metal content, known as the fineness.

The Leopard’s Head is the mark of the London Assay Office and has been in continuous use since 1300. By 1363 every gold or silver smith had to stamp each piece of work with their personal mark, to show that they had met the set standards.

In 1478, year marks were introduced to further protect consumers. A group of four punch-marks make up the hall mark which reads from left to right: the Lion passant is the British sterling mark; the Leopard’s head denotes that the Presentation vase was made in London; the Gothic ‘I’ is the date mark for 1864; and the head of Queen Victoria shows that duty has been paid.

Other marks on the Presentation vase include a punch with ‘Ish’ which show that it was made by John Samuel Hunt (1785-1865). Along the bottom edge is ‘Hunt & Roskell Late Storr & Mortimer’ which establishes that the firm was heir to the legendary Regency silversmith Paul Storr (1771-1844) who began his business as Storr & Co in 1819, ‘Breadalbane 1877’ probably relates to an inventory record for Gavin Campbell (1851-1922), 7th Earl of Breadalbane.

The Presentation vase is currently on display in the Australian Collection at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG). Of interest, the Gallery houses a significant collection of Australian paintings, sculptures, decorative art objects, and works on paper. You can find more information on Indigenous Australian ArtQueensland Heritage; and Australian Art to 1975 and also search the Gallery’s Collection online for colonial Australian works by Henry Short, GF Folingsby, Chester Earles, R Godfrey Rivers, Louis Buvelot, Eugene von Guerard, JH Carse, HJ Johnstone, WC Piguenit, Henry Rielly, Henry Gritten, George Peacock, Winifred Rumney and Isaac Walter Jenner.

The potter and the dentist

Phillip McConnell | Australia b.1947 | Blossom jar 1981 | Stoneware, wheelthrown clay fired to 1300 degrees Celsius for three days, natural ash glaze with fire marks, 22ct gold inlay | Purchased 1982 with the assistance of the Crafts Board of the Australia Council | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

‘Carl and Phillip McConnell: Queensland studio potters’ is an exhibition by a father and son team of potters who established Australia–wide profiles.

Carl McConnell was one of the hundreds of thousands of American Servicemen who passed through Brisbane but made lasting ties when he met and married a local girl, Bernice (Bunny) Pearson. Carl and Bunny McConnell settled in Burbank, California where their son Phillip was born, but decided to return to Brisbane in 1948.

Carl trained in Brisbane and became the most prominent potter of his generation in Queensland and a figure of national significance. Carl was establishing his career when Phillip trained under his father from 12 to 17 years of age. He enrolled in a diploma course in pottery at the Central Technical College but departed after 18 months when his father offered him a formal apprenticeship. In 1968, Phillip visited Hawai’i, and because he was born in the United States, he was taken into the draft like his father before him spending his military service in the United States’ Navy. Phillip restarted his ceramics career when he returned to Brisbane in 1970 and two years later held a solo exhibition at Potters Gallery in Woolloomooloo, Sydney.

Throughout his career, Carl McConnell subscribed wholeheartedly to the ideas expressed by the Englishman Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada from Japan, in Leach’s A Potter’s Book (1940). Economic ties between Australia and Japan developed through the 1960s and cultural ties soon followed.

Phillip’s display in Sydney was seen by the senior Japanese potter, Tatsuzo Shimaoka (1919 – 2007), who invited him to work with him at his pottery at Mashiko, north of Tokyo, Japan in 1973. There McConnell joined the group of workers (students, and apprentices from Japan and abroad) who Shimoka sponsored throughout his career.

At Mashiko he met Kei Fujiwara (1899 – 1983) and his son Yu (1932 – 2001) and was invited to extend his stay for another six months to work in their pottery at Imbe, Bizen the vastly older pottery district established on the shores of the Inland Sea around 1000 years ago. It was a remarkable introduction to the traditions of Japanese pottery as Kei Fujiwara in was designated a ‘National Living Treasure’ in 1970 and Shimoka and Yu Fujiwara were to be similarly honoured in 1996.

Because of the clay composition, Bizen wares are fired slowly over a long period of time. The surface treatments of Bizen wares are entirely dependent on the effects produced by ‘fly ash’ reacting with the clay body. The placement of pieces in a kiln causes them to be fired under different conditions, with a variety of different results ― imperfections and irregularities of the surface are deliberately sought.

On his return to Australia in 1974, Phillip McConnell exhibited his output from Japan at the Reid Gallery in Brisbane and in 1975 established his workshop, The Pottri near Toowoomba. McConnell’s output over the next decade reflected the ethos of Bizen pottery although the firings took place at three rather than ten to fourteen days. This ‘Blossom jar’ is readily recognisable as a product of a Bizen firing by the matte unglazed surface, the greenish ash glaze on the top surface and the markings on the pot caused by the action of the flames.

To be cost effective pots need to be densely packed in a kiln and you can see a pale patch on the side of this pot where McConnell put a small pad of clay there to prevent the pot sticking to others in the kiln. When he tried to remove it had actually fused with the pot a small part of the surface came away with the pad. Nothing lost― he took it to a dentist in Toowoomba to make the gold ‘filling’. This reflects the Japanese veneration for old pottery pieces which are so greatly treasured so that when they break they are repaired with lacquer which is then gilded.

‘Carl and Phillip McConnell: Queensland studio potters’ is on display at the Queensland Art Gallery until 24 June 2012. An illustrated 8-page exhibition brochure is available for purchase from the QAGOMA Store.