Hands on! A paper conservation workshop at the University of Canberra

Cleaning suppliesSusan Thomas and Jen Hill, the curators of rare books and music respectively, spent a day at the University of Canberra recently learning the basics of paper conservation. While most of the day was “hands on”, the presenters, Dr Mona Soleymani and Ian Batterham, began the day talking about the history of paper making, its composition and common additives and the various contributors to paper deterioration.

Paper cleaning task

Then came the first of our practical tasks. We worked on our own sheets of paper—purposefully dirtied and defaced—to try various techniques of surface cleaning, including vacuuming, gentle brushing and scraping. We also tried using a range of cleaning products ranging from the everyday to the highly specialized.

A paper washing task followed: our heavily acidic and brittle paper from the classifieds section of a 1970s newspaper was checked for colour fastness, then given a magnesium carbonate bath in order to de-acidify it. We also learned different ways to flatten and dry paper.Washing paper

Tissue paper Japanese


Next we used carefully torn pieces of Japanese tissue paper to repair a printed paper sheet with several rips on its edges. High quality Japanese tissue, with long fibres visible to the naked eye—combined with a purpose-made adhesive—gave remarkably good results considering our beginner status. Our last task was to attach a backing sheet to a small colour print.

Backing and repairingThe course was expertly taught and very enjoyable. As curators it has given us knowledge and understanding that we can apply day-to-day in the management of our collections.

Jennifer Hill (Curator, Music)


Studies for masters: new research into old master drawings

The Baillieu Library Print Collection includes approximately 100 drawings, many of them donated by Dr J. Orde Poynton in 1959.

In recent years a series of detailed research projects, undertaken through the university’s Cultural Collections Projects Program, have shone a spotlight upon these works.

Many of the drawings are studies, some by artists perfecting their skills, others created as patterns for prints, paintings or sculptures. They have been executed in various artistic styles and media and range in date from the 16th to the 19th centuries. They have passed through the hands of numerous artists, dealers and collectors before reaching their destination at the University of Melbourne. Some of their secrets and stories remain untold.Their beguiling lines and mysteries invite the viewer to explore beyond the marks that lie on the surface—to plumb their depths for some fascinating surprises.

A selection of drawings are on display on the ground floor, Baillieu Library form 6 June – 24 July 2016.

Selected drawings

Francesco Zuccarelli’s oil sketch is a curious image, and is unlike the majority of the works he produced. He is more commonly associated with rococo decorative painting. The focus
on the figure rather than the surrounding landscape makes this work a rare composition. The inscription on the verso states that it is from a series of ‘6 original drawings, with engravings’.
The Baillieu Library also holds a copy of the corresponding engraving by Antonio Baratta.

Francesco Zuccarelli, La Carità (Charity), c. 1760–70Antonio Baratta, La Carità (Charity), c. 1760–70

Francesco Zuccarelli, La Carità (Charity), c. 1760–70, gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection University of Melbourne.

This mysterious mannerist drawing is a study of what appear to be one Juno and two Sabina statues. The drawing was probably executed in late 16th-century Rome, where all three statues were on public display. The drawing bears the monogram of renowned English collector John Barnard, as well as that of the lesser-known E.A. Patterson.

Unknown artist, Three statues of women and a study of a female head, c. 1580

Unknown artist, Three statues of women and a study of a female head, c. 1580, gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection University of Melbourne.

A handwritten inscription on the verso of this drawing reveals a name: ‘Antonÿ Georgetti’. This identified the sculptor of the statue after which the drawing was made: one of the
ten stone angels holding the Arma Christi (‘Weapons of Christ’) that adorn the Ponte Sant’ Angelo in Rome. According to the Bible, a sponge dipped in gall and vinegar
was offered to Jesus on the Cross, as a final act of persecution.

Unknown artist after Antonio Giorgetti, Angel with the sponge, 17th century

Unknown artist after Antonio Giorgetti, Angel with the sponge, 17th century, gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection University of Melbourne.

This study, which represents a scene in the life of the infant St John the Baptist, can be paired with a more advanced composition drawing held in the Louvre, also attributed to Eustache Le Sueur. An artist of immense popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, and one of the founders of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Le Sueur was often referred to as ‘The French Raphael’, as is inscribed on the verso of this drawing.

Attributed to Eustache Le Sueur, Zechariah regains his speech, 17th century

Attributed to Eustache Le Sueur, Zechariah regains his speech,17th century, gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection University of Melbourne.

Abraham Bloemaert’s drawing is a preparatory design for a print which is titled The Annunciation. Another preparatory drawing of the same subject is held in Rotterdam. Bloemaert was a foremost Catholic artist whose voluminous output has endured for centuries.

Abraham Bloemaert, The Annunciation (c.1625-35)

Abraham Bloemaert, The Annunciation c.1625-35, gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection University of Melbourne.

This drawing is very similar in technique and composition to that of Mary with the infant Christ In The Crib or Holy Family, another drawing which is in Düsseldorf and is a study for an unidentified painting. Giacinto Calandrucci moved to Rome to undertake training under Carlo Maratta.

Giacinto Calandrucci, Madonna with the Infant (c.1670)

Giacinto Calandrucci, Madonna with the Infant (c.1670), gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection University of Melbourne.


Alex Shapley, James Dear, Jessica Cole, Callum Reid, Peter Mitchelson and Fleur McArthur.

International Museum Day

On Wednesday 18 May, the University’s Museums and Collections celebrated International Museum Day, an occasion to raise awareness of how important museums are in the development of sociey. Recently, International Museum Day has experienced burgeoning popularity with almost 30,000 museums organising activities in more than 120 countries. At the University of Melbourne tours were offered by the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne Archives, the Grainger Museum, Tiegs Zoology Museum, Baillieu Library Rare Books, Baillieu Library Rare Music Collection, the VCA and TV Archives, the Law Rare Books Collection and the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology. The tours were followed by a presentation by Fiona Moore on the new Arts West building and the role that it will play in facilitating wider access to, and use of, the University’s vast cultural collection.


Staff from the University’s Musuems and Collections manned a table in the Baillieu Library foyer with brochures and publications available and spoke to a number of University staff, students and the general public about their knowledge of some of the campus’ cultural gems. Students were particularly interested in finding our more about our Cultural Collections Student Projects Program and the opportunities for practical experience in the collection management field. More information about the program can be found here.

For further information about the current and upcoming exhibitions and events across the University’s 32 cultural collections go to the Museums and Collections website.

Chelsea Harris

Exhibitions Marketing and Events Coordinator

Special Collections and the Grainger Museum


Thousands of sea miles and water as metaphor

My love for the sea is so strong that life feels to me only half-lived on land. 1

Images of water and maritime culture are strong themes in Percy Grainger’s art collection. John Harry Grainger, Percy’s father, was an architect and a fine watercolour painter who produced seascapes and maritime scenes for pleasure. The paintings he gifted his son demonstrate an innate understanding of the tensions and energies that combine to create wind-powered sea travel—an interest he passed on to his child. He was his son’s first art teacher. Among Percy Grainger’s juvenilia are numerous paintings and drawings of watercraft.


John Harry Grainger (1854-1917), French fishing boats entering Boulogne harbour, 1892. Watercolour on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

It is easy to comprehend Grainger’s love of maritime imagery. As a touring concert pianist he spent many thousands of hours at sea, starting his lifetime of sea voyages when he sailed from Australia at the age of 13 to take up his formal studies in music in Frankfurt.

Three years after graduation he was touring South Africa and Australasia with the renowned Australian contralto, Ada Crossley—again, covering many sea miles—and he joined a second tour with her four years later.

Grainger became an obsessive tall ship enthusiast. As a child he experienced the last days of sailing cargo vessels undertaking coastal trade in Australia. He also saw windjammers docking in Melbourne and made sketches of these vessels, as well as their steam-powered competitors.

At 51, Grainger had an opportunity to experience what would have been a dream to lovers of square-rigged ships. He and his wife Ella spent 101 days on a sea voyage to Australia (1933/34) on the Finnish Barque, L’Avenir. It was a profound experience for him, which he recorded in paintings and drawings. He made visual notes of passing ships, landscape profiles from the sea and the minutiae of deck and rigging structures. He later had a scale model of the vessel fabricated.


Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961), Sail-awning, used to hinder deck tennis quoits falling overboard (mended and kept going by P.G.). L’Avenir, December 1933. Ink on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne


Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961), Pomern, Archibald Russell, Viking, Passat and Ponape, seen from L’Avenir, Port Victoria, S. Australia, January 1934. Watercolour on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Grainger painted and sketched throughout his life. The deftly drawn pen and ink of a two mast sailing vessel in port at Farsund in Norway was executed on Hotel letterhead—another example of Grainger’s habit of visual note making as he travelled.


Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961), Farsund, 23 August 1913. Ink on letterhead. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

For a man who documented his life with extraordinarily copious notes, there is limited provenance to some of the works in the exhibition Water, marks and countenances: works on paper from the Grainger Museum collection . Little is recorded of the Californian watercolourist, Hugh Nevill-Smith, whose confidently executed seascape is on display.


Hugh Nevill-Smith, Sailboat on a lake, n.d. Watercolour on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

The crisp etching of Strandvägen and Nordic Museum (in Sweden) signed ‘Knorr’ may have been by a relation of Grainger’s Frankfurt composition lecturer, Iwan Knorr. And whether Grainger met the New Zealand artist, Cranleigh Barton, is unknown. The artist’s watercolour of London Bridge is a spare, luminous image in the impressionist style.


Cranleigh Harper Barton, London Bridge, n.d. Watercolour on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

By contrast, some of the works are by friends and were gifted to Grainger. Flora M. Pilkington, known for her watercolours of gardens, produced an image of Edvard Greig’s lakeside home, Troldhaugen, in the year of the composer’s death. Eight years later she gave it to Grainger with a note telling him of the difficulties of finding an appropriate view point.



Flora M. Pilkington, Autumn sketch at Troldhaugen, c.1907. Watercolour on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Old junks in Shanghai harbour is by Grainger’s friend and early mentor, Mortimer Menpes. Norman Lindsay’s Little Mermaid and his melange of nudes (in and out of water), boats, castles and sheep dogs, titled Capriccio, are two works from a small group of prints Lindsay gave Grainger. As well as sharing a love of erotica, the two artists were fond of model ships.



Norman Lindsay (1879-1969), The little mermaid, 1934. Etching and aquatint on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

The inclusion of detailed watercolours of Grainger’s experimental music-making machines in the exhibition has a less obvious, yet still pertinent connection with the theme of water— here water is metaphor.


Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961), “Hills and dales” air-blown-reeds tone-tool no.2 (snowshoe), October 1951. Watercolour, ink and graphite on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

The last musical adventure of Grainger’s life was his experimental ‘Free Music’. He likened the new sonic forms he was generating to the movement of water. His vision was of a music unconstrained by western conventions of pitch and rhythm. Gone would be the incremental movements of melody, harmony and rhythm. The sounds in his head were of gliding tones or Glissandi, and irregular rhythms: multiple voices threading through each other like the lapping of waves breaking on the side of a moving boat.

My impression is that this world of tonal freedom was suggested to me by wave movements in the sea that I first observed as a young child at Brighton, Victoria, and Albert Park, Melbourne.2

By Brian Allison

Exhibitions Coordinator, Special Collections and Grainger Museum


  1. Percy Grainger to Douglas Charles (D.C.) Parker, 28 August, 1916
  2. Percy Grainger, ‘Free Music 1938’, in Gillies and Clunies Ross, Grainger on Music, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

A Medieval Beetle in the Rare Books Collection

Eight-legged flying beetle with antlers While much is known about the cultural depiction of beetles in the Classical period and during the Renaissance, much less is known about the cultural representation and meaning of beetles during the Middle Ages. This may be beginning to change with the contemporary digitisation of illuminated manuscripts, books and artworks, and the development of online translators, translations and dictionaries, which are providing new methodologies for analysis and interpretation.

Recently I came across a drawing of an eight-legged flying beetle with antlers in the Baillieu Library’s Hortus Sanitatis (1491)[1], or Garden of Health, which I was able to compare with digitised copies located in other international collections[2]. The beetle is categorised in the section ‘Tractatus De Avibus’ (Treatise on Birds) and is displayed alongside other fantastic drawings like that of a man lying naked in a field being attacked by hornets and that of a myrmecoleon or ant-lion.

A man being attacked by hornetsOn close inspection the drawing in the Hortus appears to be a rudimentary sketch of the European stag beetle (Lucanus cervus). Stag beetles are named after their large antler-like mandibles. Only the males possess these horns and use them to joust with other males in territorial disputes. Stag beetles live in forests, woodlands, hedges and gardens, but they are currently listed as a protected species in the United Kingdom and are thought to have disappeared from certain parts of Western Europe on account of environmental changes and habitat destruction.

A myrmecoleon or ant-lionBy modern standards the beetle-drawing in the Hortus is anatomically incorrect in a number of respects. The beetle has no antennae. It lacks a meso-thorax. It has eight legs rather than six, which technically makes it an arachnid, and its feet are cloven rather than clawed or hooked with tarsi. Having noted these anatomical errors, the stag beetle is identifiable with regards to its brown colouring, spectacular antlers, and general shape. Together with the accompanying textual description, it offers invaluable insights into how Europeans thought about insects towards the end of the Middle Ages:

‘A flying beetle is similar in style to the cricket. They fly towards night and make a waspish noise. He has long horns that are medicinal, [and] those horns be bright and branched like teeth. The head may be taken off yet it [moves not] long without the body. The body without the head [moves] but not so long as the head’[5].

Text describing the stag beetleChristopher Harrington

PhD candidate

School of Communication

University of Melbourne

Interested in finding out more?

Read about the Baillieu Library’s copy of Hortus Sanitatis in the University of Melbourne Collections magazine.

Browse the digitised version online


[1] Hortus sanitatis. [Mainz : Jacob Meydenbach, 23 June 1491].  UniM Bail SpC/RB MTC/20 Incunabula

[2] These include the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri, one of the world’s pre-eminent science and technology libraries.

[3] Lister, Martin. Historiae Animalum Angliae. Londini : Apud Joh. Martyn Regiæ societatis typographum, 1678.  Digital version available at http://lhldigital.lindahall.org/cdm/ref/collection/nat_hist/id/22115.

[4] Merian, Maria Sibylla. Metamorphasibus Insectorum Surinamensium. Tot Amsterdam, Voor den auteur…, als ook by Gerarde Valck, [1705].  Digital version available at http://lhldigital.lindahall.org/cdm/ref/collection/nat_hist/id/1049.

[5] Hortus sanitatis.

Full page image from the 'Tractacus de Avibus'

Ballooning, steam and Victorian fantasies


The month of May marks the 150th anniversary of The Great Exhibition of 1851 that took place in Hyde Park, London from 1 May to 11 October. The Victorian-era Great Exhibitions were platforms that launched countless inventions. The newly developed ‘cast plate glass,’ for example, made possible the construction, to a design by Joseph Paxton, of the very building that housed the exhibition, dubbed ‘The Crystal Palace.’ Paxton, also a gardener of renown, based the Crystal Palace on a greenhouse he designed for the recently discovered giant Victoria amazonica waterlily. The Crystal Palace embodied both the Victorian imagination and the greatest offerings of industrial manufacturing. Another new technique promoted at the Exhibition – steel plate engraving – resulted in prints which commemorate the event.

(Above) Samuel Read, The Crystal Palace international exhibition of 1851, (c.1851), etching and engraving, gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne.


Joseph Paxton, The Crystal Palace and Park, 1854, engraving,  Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne.


At this time the industrial revolution was buoyed both by balloon ascensions and the marvel of steam power. Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1838 ushering in a distinctive era of art and culture. Manufacturing was not the only thing to be transformed; this was also a time of lofty ambitions and wafting imaginations.

The first manned hot air balloon ascension had taken place in the previous century at the Palace of Versailles in 1783. Jean-Pierre Blanchard’s flight to cross the English Channel soon followed in 1785. Blanchard’s balloon was propelled by the balloonist flapping a pair of oars back and forth, which can be seen depicted in the distant background of the stipple engraving by William Birch. In literature, Jules Verne’s popular novel Five weeks in a balloon (1863) expanded the ambitions of the adventurous to every cloud, mountain and ocean. The Victorians saw in the balloon a vehicle for turning an inflated idea into an innovation. It is interesting note that the first model of propelled balloon was designed by Australian aviator David Bland and was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851.


William Birch after Thomas Rowlandson, Dover Castle, 1789, stipple engraving,  Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959, Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne.

Another vehicle traversing the sky was the airship. These curious leviathans of the air enabled improved travel, and they began taking over the skies of London during the World Wars. Scotland’s Forth Bridge, itself a monument to the wonder of Victorian engineering, in Lumsden’s etching, is partnered by airships and also the steam train, both elevated into the stratosphere.



 Ernest Stephen Lumsden, Forth Bridge, (1940-46), etching, Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne.

The individual who dramatically advanced transport on land was engineer George Stephenson, who enabled the public to travel by steam locomotive for the first time in 1825. The invention of the railways evolved, surprisingly, alongside the sewing machine, which transformed the textile industry and factory work. One memento in the Print Collection capturing these historic developments is an unusual transport souvenir. This piece of textile immortalises Stephenson and his innovations through the medium of machine embroidery; the image was probably adapted from an engraved image.

Unknown artist, Robert Stephenson and rocket locomotive, (19th century), Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959. Baillieu Library Print Collection, Uinveristy of Melbourne.

Unknown artist, Robert Stephenson and rocket locomotive, (19th century), Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton, 1959. Baillieu Library Print Collection, Uinveristy of Melbourne.

The contraptions for ballooning, locomotion and manufacture let fly numerous Victorian fantasies which were captured in print media. These often aerial ambitions enabled the Victorians, at the same time, to soar through industrial advancements.


Kerrianne Stone (Curator, Prints)


A tale of two Luciles and two composers: Grétry père et fille

Celebrated musicians … a collection of portraits (London, 1883; 780.922 FLA)

Early print editions of French music of the 17th and 18th centuries, especially opera, are a collection-strength of Rare Music at The University of Melbourne. One of the composers best represented is André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry (1741–1813; born Liège, Belgium) who was supremely successful in Paris as a composer of opéras comiques and recitative comedies in the decades before the French Revolution. Rare Music has early imprints of fifteen of Grétry’s stage works.

A casual glance at two particular Grétry light operas from the collection can cause confusion. There is A-E-M Grétry’s “comédie” Lucile, first performed in 1769, and Lucile Grétry’s Le mariage d’Antonio of 1786. Lucile is both the fictitious (and eponymous) heroine of Grétry’s comic opera (with libretto by Jean-François Marmontel) and the name his daughter—also a composer—was known by. Her given names were Angélique-Dorothée-Louise. The stories of the fictitious Lucile and the young Lucile Grétry are, in different ways, remarkable.

Opening of Grétry’s Lucile (Paris, 1769; LHD 052)
Opening of Grétry’s Lucile (Paris, 1769; LHD 052)

Fundamental to the fictitious Lucile’s story in the opera is the trope of the swapped baby. [1] When the daughter of a wealthy family, the original baby Lucile, dies in the care of a wet nurse, the servant substitutes her own daughter. With the action set on the substitute Lucile’s wedding day, her humble origins are revealed to her by her birth father (Blaise) and it seems that marriage is now out of the question. By the opera’s end Lucile’s personal qualities transcend her “class” and the happy pair marry after all.

Printed parts for Lucile Grétry’s opera Le marriage d’Antonio (Paris, 1786; LHD 059)
Printed parts for Lucile Grétry’s opera (Paris, 1786; LHD 059)

Lucile Grétry, sadly, was denied the happy ending of her namesake. Her own brief marriage was unsuccessful and she died of tuberculosis at the age of 17.

As a young child Lucile received training in composition both from her father (in counterpoint and declamation) and other musicians. She began Le marriage d’Antonio when she was only 13 years old, writing all the vocal parts and, to accompany, a part for harp and a bass line. Lucile’s choice of the harp is emblematic as “for feminine decency, no instrument could compete with the harp” in Paris at the time. [2] Her father’s contribution to the opera was to arrange the harp part for full orchestra, making theatrical performance possible. He also made some alterations to the ensemble numbers. Le mariage was very well received by critics and audiences and stayed in the repertory for 5 years and 47 performances.

The man behind these two Luciles, A-E-M Grétry, was himself exceptional for his day in his attitude to women. Grétry took only 4 music pupils during his life and 3 were women. Through his copious writings, [3] he championed the creativity of women proclaiming that they could possess genius in any sphere. A musical career was singled out as achievable for many women and one that would offer them a welcome path to independence. Grétry characterised his daughter Lucile as an “image of feminine sensitivity and genius, coupled with a strong will to compose”. [4]

Quartet from Grétry’s Lucile, p. 34 (vocal parts only)
Quartet from Grétry’s Lucile, p. 34 (vocal parts only)

Grétry believed in the centrality of family life, [5] and this was celebrated in the greatest success of his opera Lucile, the quartet from scene 4, “Où peut-on être mieux qu’au sein de sa famille” (Where can one be so happy as with one’s family).  Though suffused with sentimentality, it takes on poignancy in the knowledge that not only Lucile but Grétry’s other two daughters died young from tuberculosis.


Jennifer Hill, Music Curator

[1] For a synopsis see Robert Ignatius Letellier, Opera-comique: A sourcebook (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010) p. 368–369.

[2] Jacqueline Letzter and Robert Adelson, Women writing opera: Creativity and controversy in the age of the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), p. 49.

[3] See, for example, Grétry’s Mémoires, ou Essais sur la musique, written first as one volume in 1789, then enlarged to three.

[4] Letzter and Adelson, p. 25, 55–56.

[5] David Charlton, “Grétry, André-Ernest-Modeste” in Oxford Music Online, accessed 21 April 2016.

Reading with the young Charlotte: celebrating the 200th birthday of Charlotte Brontë with some books from an unconventional childhood

Cover image of Charlotte Brontë, Rare Books Collection
Cover image of Charlotte Brontë, Rare Books Collection

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë, the third-born and longest lived of the six children of Patrick and Maria Brontë, and the author of the classic novels Jane Eyre (1847), Shirley (1849), Villette (1853) and The Professor (1857).  Much has been written about Charlotte and her famous 19th century literary family, and the mystique of their lives and legacy has been the subject of continuing interpretation and reinterpretation.  The Baillieu Library is very fortunate to hold some important early Brontë editions, together with copies of several titles which they are known to have read, if not devoured, as children.

The timeworn autobiographical themes of the Brontë story are familiar to most readers of English literature: the isolated parsonage on the edge of the Yorkshire moor; the bleak childhoods of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, overshadowed by the premature death of their mother and two elder sisters, and misfortunes of brother Branwell; and the untimely deaths of Emily and Anne by the age of 30, and Charlotte at 38.  Like most legends, the Brontë one is part myth, part truth, and it seems that despite their many adversities, the Brontë home was a warm and happy one, and Haworth was a small bustling town, where the Brontës lived in a manner that was no worse, and often better, than their neighbours.

Engraving of Haworth Church and Parsonage, Rare Books Collection
Engraving of Haworth Church and Parsonage, Rare Books Collection

An unconventional childhood and the Brontë’s book interests

Less prominent in the popular imagination, and what set the young family apart from their village counterparts, was the children’s unconventional upbringing and education.  A precocious curiosity was encouraged by their Rousseau-like father, Reverend Patrick Brontë, who had taken up the perpetual curacy of St Michael and All Angels’ Church in 1820.  A Cambridge-educated scholar from a poor Irish background, Patrick included his children in adult conversations and his business affairs and encouraged them to read and discuss the books, journals and newspapers which he added to his library [1].  The children consumed omnivorously, the only recorded restriction to their literary diet being the popular gossipy women’s paper, the Lady’s Magazine; or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex (1770-1847), as it contained ‘foolish love stories’ [2].

A glimpse of the parsonage bookshelves is provided by Charlotte’s first biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell:

‘the well-bound were ranged in the sanctuary of Mr B’s study…up and down [the house] were to be found many standard works of a standard kind’.  These were supplemented by some books from Maria Brontë’s side of the family – ‘mad Methodist Magazines full of miracles and apparitions…preternatural warnings, ominous dreams, and frenzied fanaticism; and the equally mad letters of Mrs Elizabeth Rowe, the popular 18th century author of Friendship in Death (1728)’ [3].

Some of the children’s favourites included natural history and geographical works – Bewick’s Book of Birds (1804),The Garden and Menagerie of the Zoological Society (1831), and Goldsmith’s Grammar of General Geography (1819), copies of all of which can be found in the Baillieu’s Rare Book Collection.  Their young imaginations were stirred by stories of The Arabian Knights (1706), the Romantic works of Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and John Bunyan, and a volume containing dramatic scenes by engraver John Martin (1789-1954).

Title page of The Gardens and Menagerie of the Zoological Society, Rare Books Collection
Title page of The Gardens and Menagerie of the Zoological Society, Rare Books Collection

Reverend Brontë subscribed to several journals including the Leeds Intelligencer, Blackwood’s Magazine and Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, all of which contained news and articles on contemporary events, people and places [4].  These were as an important influence on the children as the fictional stories that they read, with the children absorbing ‘information from every possible source, devouring newspapers, magazines, annuals, children’s books and their father’s library for their source material for their own creations’ [5].

Contents page from Blackwood's Magazine, August 1827, including an article on The Duke of Wellington, Rare Books Collection
Contents page from Blackwood’s Magazine, August 1827, including an article on The Duke of Wellington, Rare Books Collection

Imaginative influences and first writings

This rich literary environment provided inspiration for the young Brontës’ games, which became further animated when brother Branwell was given a set of toy soldiers as a gift from his father.  Sharing the soldiers with his sisters, the children began writing scripts of adventure, mimicking the adult publishing world in a series of tiny hand-manufactured books.  Charlotte’s first book was written in 1824 when she was nine as a present to her younger sister Anne.  It took the form of a manuscript about the size of a matchbox and penned in minuscule handwriting, now preserved with several other examples in the Brontë Museum in Haworth.  Other examples of Brontë juvenilia are held by the Houghton Library (Yale University), the British Library and the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris.

Prominent amongst Charlotte’s childhood heroes was the Duke of Wellington, a passion she shared with her father Patrick Brontë, and she named her toy soldier after him.  The Blackwood’s reports in turn provided models for many of her juvenile stories, infusing a cast of ‘important aristocratic figures engaged in struggles over power…with the addition of many tangled love affairs’ [6].  One story involved an attempted poisoning, and in another his sons, Arthur and Charles were the subject of a bid to kidnap them.

Page opening from an example of Charlotte Bronte's juvenilia, Houghton Library, Yale University
Page opening from an example of Charlotte Bronte’s juvenilia, Houghton Library, Yale University

On 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birthday it is intriguing to pause and reflect on the many books which fostered her highly imaginative inner life as a child.  By revisiting this rich source material, modern researchers can continue to obtain privileged insights into the early influences and lasting literary legacy of this gifted writer and those of her remarkable family.

Susan Thomas (Rare Books Curator)

George Dawe's Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, 1829, The Hermitage, St Petersburg
George Dawe’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, 1829, The Hermitage, St Petersburg


[1] Wilks, B. The Brontës: an illustrated biography. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1986, p. 63

[2] Ingham, P. The Brontës. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 70

[3] Elizabeth Gaskell in Lane, M. The Brontë story. [London]: Fontana, 1973, pp. 108-109

[4] Ingham, P. Op cit, p. 72.

[5] Wilks, B. Op cit, p. 54

[6] Ingham, Op cit, p. 72

Interested in learning more?

Select bibliography

Bentley, P. The Brontës. London: Pan, 1973.

Hughes, G. ‘The Brontës and Yorkshire’ in The Oxford guide to literary Britain & Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 233-234.

Ingham, P. The Brontës. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Lane, M. The Brontë story. [London]: Fontana, 1973.

Wilks, B. The Brontës: an illustrated biography. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1986.

Wollaston, E. Little book of the Brontë sisters. [Swindon], UK: Green Umbrella, 2008.

“The countenance is the portrait of the soul and the eyes mark its intentions”

Percy Grainger was well-pleased with a likeness the celebrated Danish academician Knud Larsen (1865-1922) made of him during a visit to Jutland in 1909—and the Museum’s collection includes not just the finished watercolour painting but the preparatory drawings as well. With pencil, Larsen familiarised himself with Grainger’s features and captured contrasts of expression.  One sketch of the musician in profile freezes a wistful, unselfconscious expression, seemingly executed seconds before the posed finished work, which exudes self-confidence—the two appearing almost filmic in sequence.

‘Fancy, Knud Larsen did a not ½ bad drawing of me yesterday, which he has given me. And his elder girl Gerda…draws simply ravishingly. She said to him, “have you ever seen anyone so beautiful as he” meaning me, so he tells me.’ [2]

Knud Larsen 1865-1922), Percy Grainger, 1909. Watercolour and graphite on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Knud Larsen 1865-1922), Percy Grainger, 1909. Watercolour and graphite on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

The Grainger Museum collection holds more than 600 works of art, a significant proportion of which are portraits or representations of people engaged in some kind of activity. Many of these, naturally, depict Percy Grainger himself, but family, friends, acquaintances, fellow musical personalities, admirers and people who influenced Grainger are also represented. The stylistic approaches of the artists whose works are represented in the exhibition Water, marks and countenances: works on paper from the Grainger Museum collection range vividly from the formal commissioned work straight out of the halls of the academy—to the irreverent and light-hearted barrack-room caricature.

Up until the late 19th/early 20th century the two primary expectations people had of a portrait were that it provide a physical resemblance, and disclose something about the sitter: an indication of their character, their social standing or perhaps occupation.

There are an abundance of early portraits of Percy Grainger in the Grainger Museum’s collection, for example, that depict him golden-haired, youthfully serious and impeccably dressed, seated at a piano or holding an instrument or a sheet of music—thus announcing to all those viewing the picture that they are looking at a portrait of a musician, and probably a famous one at that. The most iconic of these of course is Rupert Bunny’s large scale oil painting of 1902—but the drawings and sketches from the same period in this exhibition present a rather more personal quality.

The famous British actor Ernest Thesiger (1879-1961) made several appealingly gentle pastel portraits of Grainger during their years of friendship in London. Thesiger, who was himself an amateur musician, had studied painting and drawing at the Slade School of Art.

‘Never have I had, never will I have, a portrait of me more like, more true, more characteristic, more satisfying than yours. Only a real real [sic] sensitive artist could produce a work so full of insights, so apt, so sweetly done.’ [3]

Ernst Thesiger(1879-1961), Percy Grainger, 1903. Pastel on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Ernst Thesiger(1879-1961), Percy Grainger, 1903. Pastel on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

In 1901, South Australian-born artist Mortimer Menpes (1855-1938) invited Grainger to perform in his palatial London studio to a very select group of potential patrons. Menpes had been making portraits of wealthy aristocrats and cultural luminaries.  His formal portrait of the irascible artist, James McNeill Whistler, included in this exhibition, was one of a series he executed of his friend and one-time mentor, before the two men had a cataclysmic falling out.

Mortimer Menpes(1855-1938), Whistler no. 11, 1912-1913. Etching and drypoint on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Mortimer Menpes(1855-1938), Whistler no. 11, 1912-1913. Etching and drypoint on paper.  Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

The development of mechanised image-making in the nineteenth century brought with it a challenge to the whole notion of portraiture as an artform with the advent of the formal, posed photograph having a significant impact upon the style of images rendered by the artists’ hand. The latter started to take on different, more private or intimate functions. Artists began to feel able to explore series of ‘dashed off’ sketches of their friends or models (or strangers across the room) as a legitimate subject for exhibition.

Augustus John (1878-1961), for example, was particularly renowned for his spontaneous style of portraiture in which he produced simple line drawings that successfully managed to capture his sitter’s essence. The fragile, almost ethereal drawing of Grainger’s wife Ella, executed on washroom paper towelling, is indicative of this style. Ella met Augustus John while she was studying at the Slade School of Art in London in around 1914, more than a decade before she met Grainger.

Augustus John (1878-1961), Ella Viola Ström, n.d. Graphite on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Augustus John (1878-1961), Ella Viola Ström, n.d. Graphite on paper.  Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Jacques Emile Blanche’s idiosyncratic little sketches of Debussy dated 1902 in Dieppe are bare scratchings of pencil on rough paper, yet they capture perfectly the composer’s distinctively identifiable quiff. The drawings hint at a private occasion or conversation long hidden from the contemporary viewer.  Grainger credits Blanche with having introduced the music of Debussy to him. Perhaps Blanche made these drawings while talking with Grainger when the two were holidaying in Dieppe in 1902.

Jaques-Émile Blanche (1861-1942), Claude Debussy, 1902. Graphite on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Jaques-Émile Blanche (1861-1942), Claude Debussy, 1902.  Graphite on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

A number of witty caricatures of Grainger and other significant musical personages of his time, such as the internationally acclaimed violin virtuoso Efrem Zimbalist, are also displayed in this exhibition.

Leonard Frank Reynolds (1837-1939), Caricature of violin virtuoso Efrem Zimbalist, 1927. Ink on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Leonard Frank Reynolds (1837-1939), Caricature of violin virtuoso Efrem Zimbalist, 1927. Ink on paper. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Prints by well-known (and not-so-well-known) artists include a beautifully executed and rarely exhibited lithograph by William Newzam Prior Nicholson (1872-1949) depicting a pensive Rudyard Kipling—who was one of Grainger’s major influences.

William Newzam Prior Nicholson (1872-1949), Rudyard Kipling, 1899. Lithograph. Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

William Newzam Prior Nicholson (1872-1949), Rudyard Kipling, 1899. Lithograph.  Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

Also of significance is a series of delicate watercolours portraying women by Melbourne miniaturist Bess Norriss Tait (1878-1939). Viewed together, these ‘countenances’ span almost a century of styles and provide an interesting insight into the history of the portrait genre.

Bess Norriss Tait (1878-1939), Miss Helen Lempriere (aged 14 years), 1924. Ink and watercolour on paper

Bess Norriss Tait (1878-1939), Miss Helen Lempriere (aged 14 years), 1924. Ink and watercolour on paper

Astrid Britt Krautschneider (Curator, Grainger Museum)


[1] The title quote is from Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43BC).

[2] Letter from Percy Grainger to Rose Grainger, 13 September 1909.

[3] Letter from Percy Grainger to Ernest Thesiger, 25 December 1909.

Imprinting the spirit of Mexico

The international scope of the Baillieu Library Print Collection has been broadened by the acquisition of three works by José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). Posada is regarded by many as the founder of Mexican printmaking, bringing the medium to the masses through popular news sheets and chapbooks. He worked at the publishing house of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, which produced thousands of periodicals and broadsides. These ephemeral printed documents communicated caricatures of contemporary individuals, news, sensational stories and issues of the day. Posada trained as a lithographer in Mexico City and promoted the use of etching on zinc and photorelief techniques to Mexico.

Barata de Calaveras (1910) depicts a skeleton carrying off two female workers. It contains the imprint of Arroyo and was printed by him for distribution during the Day of the Dead Festival.  Posada is particularly renowned for his calaveras or skeletons, which his hand animated with distinctive character. Depictions of skeletons are an integral aspect of Mexican culture and many images and figurines of calaveras were produced for the annual Day of the Dead Festival.

José Guadalupe Posada, Barata de Calaveras, 1910

Posada was working during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), a time when news sheets were an important vehicle for political messages and the shaping of an independent Mexican cultural identity. Many of Posada’s images were used across multiple sheets; they recur in varied topics and are printed under numerous titles. The image in Gran Calavera Electricia (Grand Electric Skull) (c.1910) tells, in some instances, of the calavera at the 1910 centenary celebrations for Mexican Independence Day, which recognises Mexico’s liberation from Spain. The calavera is at the cemetery gathering together the citizens who will be joining him. The beams shooting out of his eyes express his hypnotising powers on the diminutive victims. A typical commentary below the image describes the people and misadventures that culminated in the pile of skulls depicted: disreputable tortilla and pulque vendors, for example, beaten by customers including those poisoned by bad meat or liquor. Other versions reflect another frequently discussed news topic: deaths caused by electric trams. The tram car seen in the background is arriving at the cemetery to deliver its now deceased passengers. [1]

José Guadalupe Posada, Gran Calavera Electricia, (c.1910)

A catrina is seen at the top left of La Gran Calavera del Chin Chun Chan (c. 1910), a sheet that was a collaboration with Manuel Manilla and J. Cortes, Posada’s contemporaries working at the Arroyo publishing house. Posada made famous the catrina, or tall affluently dressed female skeleton, which has since become a symbol in Mexican art. [2] Each stanza below the image is punctuated with the title of the popular Mexican musical, ‘Chin Chun Chan’, a phrase that was also used as a substitute for swearing. Many of the broadsheets would have come to life for their audience by being spoken or sung aloud. The Baillieu Library Print Collection is delighted to add this lively Mexican voice to its holdings and thereby enhance the telling of printmaking history.

José Guadalupe Posada, La Gran Calavera de Chin Chun Chan, (c. 1910)


Kerrianne Stone (Curator, Prints)

[1] Posada’s Mexico edited by Ron Tyler, Washington: Library of Congress: 1979, p. 237
[2] Revolution on paper: Mexican prints 1910-1960 by Dawn Adès and Alison McClean with the assistance of Laura Campbell; edited by Mark McDonald. Published Austin [Tex.]: University of Texas Press; [London]: In co-operation with the British Museum Press, 2009, p.54

Number of posts found: 107