Go behind-the-scenes as we reframe ‘Red-tailed Black Cockatoos’


We delve into a major reframing project for prominent Queensland ornithological artist and taxidermist Anthony Alder’s (1838-1915) painting Red-tailed Black Cockatoos c.1895 currently on display in the Queensland Art Gallery’s Australian Art collection.

Anthony Alder (Standing 3rd from the right)

The staff of the Queensland Museum, 1912. (Standing L to R): ‘Chips’ Greensill, attendant/carpenter; William Baillie, attendant; Henry Hacker, entomologist; Eileen Murphy, stenographer; Clarice Sinnamon, librarian; Anthony Alder, taxidermist; Benjamin Harrison, chief attendant; E. Varey, attendant. (Seated L to R): Heber A. Longman, assistant scientist; Ronald Hamlyn-Harris, director; James Douglas Ogilby, ichtyologist. Reclining: Tom Marshall, cadet / Courtesy: Queensland Museum, Brisbane

DELVE DEEPER: Go behind-the-scenes as we conserve ‘Red-tailed Black Cockatoos’

The oil on canvas Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (illustrated) acquired in 2014 entered the QAGOMA Collection retaining only its original slip and without a picture frame. It is uncommon for a painting to enter the Gallery’s Collection unframed, yet this is the case with this Adler work, therefore, while the painting was undergoing conservation treatment, the Conservation Frames and Furniture Section commenced researching reframing options of frame styles that were historically accurate and aesthetically suitable for paintings by Alder.

Before conservation: ‘Red-tailed Black Cockatoos’ 1895

Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 / (Red-tailed Black Cockatoos) (Before conservation) c.1895 / Oil on canvas / 90.7 x 70cm / Purchased 2014. QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Reframing paintings at QAGOMA is based on in-depth research, historical accuracy, and a knowledge of art and art history. There are numerous resources available when researching historic picture frames, and in the case of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, our research commenced with Heron’s home 1895 (illustrated), another painting by Alder in our Collection.

Heron’s home was acquired in 2011 in an original 19th century picture frame that incorporates traditional frame making techniques and materials. Picture frames such as this were made or supplied by either an established picture frame making firm or importers of gilt mouldings.

TIME-LAPSE: Watch as the original colours are restored in Anthony Alders ‘Heron’s home’

To prepare Heron’s home for display, both the painting and frame required conservation treatment. While working on the frame, it was revealed that all the original compo ornament from the top edge and sight edge of the picture frame had been removed, prior to the gold overpaint being applied.

Frame during conservation: ‘Heron’s home’

Anthony Alder’s 19th century frame for Heron’s home during conservation treatment
Picture frame profile during conservation treatment for Anthony Alders Heron’s home showing evidence of missing compo ornament

Painting after conservation: ‘Heron’s home’ 1895

Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 / Heron’s home (After conservation) 1895 / Oil on canvas / 102 x 82cm / Purchased 2011 with funds from the Estate of Jessica Ellis through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

The most exciting stage of the treatment revealed the inscription ‘Mr Alder’, written in pencil on the verso of Heron’s home frame, providing a tangible link between artist, painting and frame. Unfortunately, no other frame maker’s labels or inscriptions relating to who the frame maker was, or when or where the frame was made were found.

‘Mr Alder’ inscribed on the verso of ‘Heron’s home’ picture frame

‘Mr Alder’ inscribed on the verso of Heron’s home picture frame

Publications on Anthony Alder reveal some relevant information:

‘most of the works held by the [Alder] family are still in their original highly ornate gilt frames which, according to the family, were made by Alder himself’.

‘He also produced a wide range of castings including fruit, fish and gold specimens, all in exceptional detail and painted in naturalistic colours. At the Greater Britain Exhibition in 1899 he received a gold medal diploma for gilded replicas of large cakes of retorted gold from mines at Gympie and Charters Towers’

‘Alder was also a skilled cabinet maker’.1

There is a long history of artists designing, and in some instances making their own picture frames. Given Alder’s expertise in cabinet making, casting, and gilding, and the accounts of his descendants, this raised the question… is it possible that Alder made his own picture frames?

Our research continued with visits to precinct partners, State Library of Queensland and Queensland Museum who also have paintings by Alder in their collections. Two works of particular interest are Lincoln sheep, Homeward Laddie 1895 (illustrated), and Eagle and Fox (Not Game) 1895 (illustrated). Being of similar scale and profile, these picture frames are virtually identical to the frame on Heron’s home, employing the same gilding scheme, consisting of the undecorated areas being water gilt and the compo ornament being oil gilt. The main variation is the use of different styles of ornament employed to decorate each picture frame. This information proved crucial in understanding Alder’s choices of picture frames in 1895.

Profile of the picture frame: ‘Heron’s home’

Profile drawing of the picture frame of Anthony Alders Heron’s home, indicating areas of existing compo ornament and the two areas where compo ornament had been removed. This profile is nearly identical to the original frames on Anthony Alders Lincoln sheep, Homeward Laddie 1895, and Eagle and Fox (Not Game) 1895

Picture frame: ‘Lincoln sheep, Homeward Laddie’

Picture frame profile for Lincoln sheep, Homeward Laddie 1895

Anthony Alder ‘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, Brisbane

Picture frame: ‘Eagle and Fox (Not Game)’

Picture frame profile for Eagle and Fox (Not Game) 1895

Anthony Alder ‘Eagle and Fox (Not Game)’ 1895

Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 / Eagle and Fox (Not Game) 1895 / Oil on canvas / Collection: Queensland Museum

However the question remained… are all these picture frames made by Alder himself? If by ‘made’ we are referring to purchasing prefinished mouldings, cutting, gluing and joining the mitres, then possibly yes. However, if one is referring to producing the profiled moulding, applying the compo ornament, and executing the various gilding finishes then this is highly unlikely. To manufacture picture frames of this quality, specialised woodworking machinery is required, stocks of different compo moulds are needed, and the knowledge of specialised picture framing gilding techniques is paramount.       

Although the construction methods, materials, and gilding techniques employed on the three frames for Heron’s home; Lincoln sheep, Homeward Laddie; and Eagle and Fox (Not Game) — all painted in 1895 — are typically 19th century, the deep moulding profile, and the four separate sections of compo ornament are unique. This lead to the belief that the picture frames undoubtedly have the same provenance.

Although distinctive in style, I found the style of frames to be somewhat familiar. I distinctly remember encountering a similar frame on another painting within the Gallery’s Collection. During a stroll through Collection Storage, my search was rewarded as I came across the frame I was looking for on Oscar Friström’s portrait, Duramboi, from 1893, (illustrated) also on display at the Queensland Art Gallery’s Australian Art collection.

A contemporary of Alder, Friström was a prominent Brisbane portrait painter. Duramboi is framed in yet another version of the picture frames found on the three Alder paintings, it has the same deep moulding profile, four different sections of compo ornament and the same gilding scheme. 

Oscar Friström ‘Duramboi’ 1893

Oscar Friström, Sweden/Australia 1856-1918 / Duramboi 1893 / Oil on canvas / Gift of the artist 1895 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Two crucial pieces of information are uncovered during the examination of the Duramboi frame. Firstly, Friström donated the artwork to the Gallery in 1895, two years after it was painted, which dates the picture frame between 1893 and 1895. Secondly, I find the most important piece of information when I turn the picture frame over to my delight the remnants of a picture frame maker’s label are attached to the verso of the frame. Despite being in poor condition, the address of ‘Kent’s Buildings’ is legible.

Picture frame makers label on verso of ‘Duramboi’

Picture frame makers label on verso of Duramboi

I’m familiar with the address of Kent’s Buildings, and I’m aware that the individual who operated from that premises was William Lewis Hambleton, who traded under the name A L Hambleton. This is confirmed through my ongoing research project, where I am compiling a database of Brisbane and Queensland picture frame makers of the19th and early 20th century.

A L Hambleton first opened for business in 1889 at 24 Queen Street, Brisbane, and in 1890 moved to Kent’s Building’s, on the corner of Albert and Adelaide Streets, remaining there until 1924, when the building was demolished. During this time A L Hambleton was one of Brisbane’s most established carver, gilder, picture frame maker, and importer of mouldings.

This information holds significant importance in determining the origin and creator of the picture frames. The undisputed evidence attributing A L Hambleton as the manufacturer of the Duramboi picture frame suggests that A L Hambleton was either responsible for making the three original Alder frames listed above or supplied the embellished and gilded mouldings to ‘Mr. Alder’.

Kent Buildings, corner Adelaide and Albert Streets

Intersection of Adelaide and Albert Streets (looking down Adelaide Street) featuring the Kent Buildings, (foreground on right) 1909 / 99183509940602061 / Image courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
Opening ceremony of the Brisbane Centenary at Albert Square, intersection of Albert and Adelaide Streets, with Kents Buildings in the foreground before City Council resumed the building in 1924 / 99183514018702061 / Image courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

The research clearly demonstrates this was Alder’s preferred style of frame which he selected to use on his three paintings completed in 1895. This evidence was then presented to the stakeholders involved in the project, with a proposal to replicate Heron’s home frame, after careful deliberation it was agreed to proceed with the proposal and create a replica for Red-tailed Black Cockatoos. The replica frame, made in the Gallery’s Frames Studio using traditional 19th century materials and techniques, and the conserved painting are now on display.

Leading the Conservation Framing and Furniture Section it is my utmost pleasure and privilege to contribute and continue to preserve the traditions, the history, and legacy of Brisbane Picture Frame Makers through my role in researching, making, and conserving historical frames.

Robert Zilli is Conservation Framer, QAGOMA

1 Dianne F Byrne, Kevin J Lambkin, ‘Anthony Alder (1838–1915), Queensland taxidermist and bird painter’, Archives of Natural History, April 2010, vo. 37, No. 1: pp. 58-73

After conservation with new frame: ‘(Red-tailed Black Cockatoos)’ 1895

Anthony Alder, Australia 1838-1915 / (Red-tailed Black Cockatoos) (After conservation treatment with new frame) c.1895 / Oil on canvas / 90.7 x 70cm / Purchased 2014. QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art


Secrets under Damask


Unknown Queensland Cabinetmaker | Australia | Parlour setting c.1880 — 90s | Silky ash (Ehretia acuminate) carved show-frame, spoon back raised on cabriole supports. Replacement upholstery | Bequest of Mrs Mabel Dorothy Archer 1983 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

A recent restoration was undertaken over four weeks to a parlour setting from c.1880 – 90s in the Gallery’s Collection, comprising a settee, two grandfather chairs and a grandmother chair. The setting is significant because it was constructed in Queensland from Silky ash (Ehretia acuminata), a native deciduous tree.

My role as Conservation Framer is to maintain the Gallery’s Collection of picture frames and furniture. The rotation of art works in Gallery spaces typically involves the conservation and restoration of original picture frames or the reproduction of historically-accurate ones.

The Parlour setting came into the Collection upholstered in green damask, embroidered with a neoclassical revival pattern — the colour of the fabric and the embroidered pattern were inconsistent with the period of manufacture and a decision was made to re-upholster it.

On initial inspection, each chair appeared to be in good condition, with wear consistent with the age of the setting. There was also what seems to be water damage on all the legs of the chairs, possibly caused by flooding, which would be consistent with living in Brisbane.

Interestingly, one piece of the setting did seem out of place — the second grandfather chair. Why two grandfather chairs? The style of all the chairs was very similar, having buttoned upholstery, a spoon (or wide balloon) back, with carved top rails and arms, however, it was the front legs that were different. The settee, one grandfather chair and the grandmother chairs were supported by carved cabriole legs, while the second grandfather chair had turned front legs.

The two grandfather chairs prior to treatment — note the similarity of the two chairs.

On closer inspection, it became clear that the second grandfather chair was not part of the Parlour setting. The show-frame (the visible timber not covered by the upholstery) was made from a different species of timber and the cabinet work and carved ornament were of a far superior quality to the other chairs.

A treatment plan was formulated at the same time the replacement fabric was being sourced. The first chair to undergo treatment was the settee. On removing the upholstery, it soon became apparent that the chair-frame (the timber structure covered by the upholstery) was in a far worse condition than the show-frame and it was the upholstery and webbing actually holding the chair together. It was a very crude ‘upholsterers restoration’, in which three-inch nails, screws, metal brackets, tin plates and PVA glue had been used to secure loose and broken joints, causing further deterioration to the condition of the chair. This intervention caused structural damage to the chair-frame and show-frame, splitting joints and damaging dowels.

Previous structural repairs to the chair-frame of the settee.

Previous structural repairs to the chair-frame of the settee.

Once all the upholstery was removed, I was able to identify the construction methods employed in the chairs’ original joinery, which comprised traditional doweled joints adhered with hide glue. I also visually identified the chair-frame as being made of European beech (Fagus sylvatica). European beech is particularly well suited to the manufacture of chairs, however what surprised me was why and how a European timber ended up being used on a piece of furniture made in Queensland during the 1880s — 90s? Further research is required to answer this question. Both the grandfather and grandmother chairs are constructed of the same timbers and were both in a similar condition to the settee and requiring the same restoration treatment.

Dismantled back of the grandmother chair with previous restoration intervention visible.

Restored back of the grandmother chair.

After what had been revealed beneath the Damask upholstery, a revised treatment proposal was formulated involving fully dismantling each chair, the removal of all non-original hardware such as nails, screws, metal brackets, etc. It also included the removal of PVA glue residue on the joinery, replacement of broken and missing dowels, and the replacement and re-gluing of missing or broken sections of the chair frame with the same species of timber. The adhesive for the treatment was traditional cabinet makers’ hide glue.

Settee reassembled and glued.

Intriguingly, the second grandfather chair had even more to reveal than the previous chairs. On removal of the non-original upholstery on the right armrest, fragments of what have been identified as the original fabric remained. Analysis of the fabric was conducted and it has been identified as a black silk/cotton-based satin furnishing-style fabric, commonly used in the nineteenth century. With this information, an appropriate fabric was selected that matched as closely as possible to the original, in both colour and style. The original black fabric, linen and stuffing (horse hair) has been labelled, catalogued and kept in storage for future reference.

Original upholstered right hand armrest, with black fabric, linen and horse hair stuffing. Previous structural repairs to the chair frame of the settee.

The second grandfather chair frame is made from European beech, like the parlour setting, and the show-frame, from visual identification, is European walnut (Juglans regia) — microscopic identification is required to verify this. Construction methods and the carving employed on this chair were far superior to the others, indicating that it may have been made in Europe. Structurally, the chair was in original condition and the only intervention required was the dismantlement and re-gluing of the front legs and rail.

You can view the Parlour setting in the Australian Collection at the Queensland Art Gallery. What do you think of the restoration and exhibit?

The Parlour setting on display / Photographs: Robert Zilli and Elliott Murray