[reproduction: view of the cast collection in NGV 1905, p.159]

In several meticulously-researched studies, Melbourne art historian Alison Inglis has emphasized the reliance of both private and public collections in colonial Australia on “replicas, reproductions and copies.”

Although the modernist “tradition of the new” tends to view such objects askance, 19th-century audiences had no such qualms. An Argus article of 1868 proclaimed: “we are decidedly of the opinion that good copies of really great works are better than the mass of indifferent originals we possess”; and another Argus writer (1869, also quoted by Inglis) was full of praise for Melbourne’s “mania for copies.”

These views were shared by many at the time, including influential individuals associated with the Public Library and the NGV, and as a result considerable quantities of such material entered the pre-Felton collection. The works acquired provide a valuable guide to the taste and artistic attitudes of the era, as Ann Galbally, Alison Inglis and others emphasized through their inclusion in the “First Collections” exhibition/catalogue (1992).

However, after considerable thought, the compiler of the present catalogue has opted not to include the plaster casts and other reproductions assembled during the pre-Felton era, given that few of these works are regarded as worthy of collection and exhibition in a modern museum setting (although existing examples are being retained as research material: see below, under Autotypes).

Copies and facsimiles continued to be displayed in the NGV during the earlier 20th century, although Bernard Hall took some care in NGV catalogues issued from 1894 onwards to distinguish between original paintings and copies. However, criticism of this practice was voiced authoritatively and effectively in a 1937 report by Felton Bequest adviser Sir Sydney Cockerell, who observed that “it is a grave error to combine authentic works of art with so many modern so-called reproductions.”

Accordingly, the following groups of material are not catalogued here – with only a few significant exceptions, e.g. the painted copies produced under the terms of the NGV Travelling Scholarship, and major early engravings from the Levey Gift (1879).

Plaster casts

As is well known, the first works of art acquired for the Melbourne Public Library, on the initiative of Sir Redmond Barry and the original Trustees, were plaster replicas of Greco-Roman statues, and some Renaissance and later sculpture, and plaster busts of famous men, amounting to well over 200 individual objects.

With rare exceptions (see e.g. Todt Gold Diggers 1854 {1884} NGV [SC]), the casts listed in early NGV catalogues (notably those published in 1865, 1880 and 1894) were not originals – indeed in many cases they were copies at two removes, since the Roman works reproduced were often based on Greek originals.

Initially seen by Barry and his peers as the basis for a project of public edification and education, the cast collection later came to be regarded as a resource of the gallery’s art school. By the time the NGV’s 1905 catalogue was published, the extensive series of detailed commentaries penned by Barry and others was omitted altogether, and simply replaced by a single photograph of the cast gallery with the heading “The Drawing School” (reproduced above).

Melbourne’s casts were subsequently de-accessioned and almost all of them seem have been lost or destroyed; Ann Galbally in the First Collections catalogue (1992) lists 3 busts still in the SLV and a few antique examples still at RMIT University; see also Galbally, “The Lost Museum” (1988). Whether they are a great loss must remain moot; Australian novelist George Johnston, for example, recalled the antique collection from his Gallery School days in the 1920s as an “unnerving, jolting sort of place… [full of] … dismembered fragments… limbless torsos, [and] the blank white staring of sightless eyeballs” (My Brother Jack [1964]).

Some other museums such as the V&A and the Accademia in Florence have retained their collections of casts, many of them produced commercially by the London firm of Brucciani & sons, as were most of those formerly in Melbourne.

Arundel Society publications

This organization was founded in 1848 by Sir Charles Eastlake and others, expressly to spread knowledge of medieval and Renaissance painting, especially the Italian and Flemish “Primitives.” Its annual publications, issued until 1897, were acquired enthusiastically by the Melbourne Library, and praised by Eugene von Guérard in particular, during his period in charge of the art school (1870-81), a selection being displayed in a special “Arundel Room” in the Picture Gallery during the 1870s. The NGV’s Annual Reports issued from 1870 include details of each year’s Arundel acquisitions.

From 1857, most Arundel Society prints were “chromolithographs” (coloured reproductions of modern copies of late medieval and Renaissance paintings). A spectacular example, still held in the NGV, is the copy of Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece (1868), reproduced below. The 1897 NGV catalogue (p.120: V.Buvelot Gallery, 4th bay), also lists an unspecified “collection of chromo-lithographs” under “Publications of the Arundel Society”; and Alison Inglis (1988, 1992) discusses and reproduces several examples still in the NGV.

Arundel Society reproductions acquired for Melbourne (several extant in the NGV and SLV: refer catalogues) included:

  • 10-part lithographic reproduction of Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, acquired in 1868, meticulously produced to mimic the original in miniature (NGV p.15.10-1): see photo reproduced here
  • The Life of Pope Pius II as illustrated by Pinturicchio’s frescoes in the Piccolomini Library at Siena, by the Rev. G.W.Kitchin. With ten engravings from the frescoes by Professor Grüner, 1881 (SLV)
  • see also below, under Photographic reproductions

[photo: Hangard-Maugé & Schultz after Jan & Hubert van Eyck: lithographic reproduction (1868) of the Ghent Altarpiece (NGV, purchased 1868)]

Autotypes and other replicas

Autotypes (or carbon prints, produced from the 1860s onwards, especially to reproduce drawings), were also collected in large numbers for Melbourne during the period, and listed in the NGV’s Annual Reports. For instance, AR 1882, p.37, lists 48 autotypes of “Drawings by the old Masters in the Library of Christ Church, Oxford” and 32 “large autotypes of Greek and Roman Sculpture in the British Museum and Vatican.”

Both the 1894 and 1905 NGV catalogues list “Autotype Reproductions of Drawings by Old Masters” (without providing  specific details): see NGV 1894, pp.111 and 120, and NGV 1905, p.125, describing them as “on revolving screens.” Until recently, a considerable number of these autotypes still appeared in the NGV’s online catalogue, some catalogued under the name of Adolphe Braun, an early practitioner of the technique. However, I understand that these (and other similar reproductions) are currently being de-accessioned by the NGV and re-designated as research material.

Other documented pre-Felton acquisitions of autotypes etc. include:

  • A large set of photo-lithographs of Albrecht Dürer‘s woodcuts, produced by order of the Melbourne Public Library Trustees in 1869 by then Government photographer John Noone, and published as The Albert Durer Album (1869): refer SLV catalogue
  • 8 “lithographs” replicating engravings by Marc Antonio Raimondi after Raphael and others, published by the Autotype Printing and Publishing Co., London, in 1868, and donated in 1869 by Mr Thomson (presumably Alfred Thomson)  (NGV p.251.1-1 to 8-1). Several of these still appeared in the NGV’s online catalogue when last checked: see e.g. Adam and Eve (p.251.7-1: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/41476/; not reproduced)
  • 11 autotype reproductions of John Horsley’s cartoons for The Healing Mercies of Christ (St Thomas’ Hospital, London) (ref.AR 1877, p.75; noting a substantial purchase price of 250 guineas; no longer extant?)
  • 3 Chromo-lithographs from life studies by William Mulready (1786-1863), donated by James Scurry (ref.AR 1884, p.36): no longer extant. Later (1939), original works by Mulready were acquired by the NGV
  • “2 Coloured fac-similes of Egyptian Papyri from the Book of Ani” (ref.AR 1891, p.26, under purchases; see also NGV 1894, VI.52)
  • 2 sets of photographs of Papua and the Western Pacific by J.W.Lindt, listed in AR 1894, p.22, under “Autotypes” (it is unclear whether these were original photographs or copies; for various original photos by Lindt, acquired later, see NGV catalogue)

Photographic reproductions of works of art 

NGV Annual Reports and the early catalogues also list a large number of photographs of works of art, several of them displayed in the galleries at various times, and others collected in large albums (several still in the SLV). They are a varied collection, as shown by the following examples:

  • “Album of Italian photographs, paintings & sculpture”: ref.SLV catalogue (LTWEF 31; H2015.140/1-27), accessioned only recently, but clearly an old album, apparently one of those acquired from the Architectural Photographic Association (active in the late 1850s), whose stamp appears on a number of folios. It seems likely that this album was acquired around 1860, at the same time as other photographs by Roger Fenton and others (refer linked artist entry).
  • “Photographs from drawings by Raffael” in the Louvre etc., an album of 18 photos compiled by the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A): ref.SLV catalogue (H.2015.138/1-18). This album, accessioned only recently, was clearly acquired early in the history of the SLV. The drawings include autograph examples by Raphael as well as works now attributed to his pupils
  • Photo of Guido Reni’s Aurora, Rome, donated by Dr Rowe, together with photos of ancient Roman monuments (ref. AR 1875, p.39; also listed in NGV 1894, p.127, and NGV 1905, p.118)
  • 49 Photos of Sepulchral Monuments in Italy, Medieval and Cinquecentisti; published by the Arundel Society (ref.AR 1879, p.56) [see also Arundel Society, above]
  • 16 Photographs of Pictures by Nicholas Chevalier. Donated by Chevalier (ref. AR 1879, p.56)
  • 200 photos of “Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, and other objects in the British Museum” (ref.AR 1882, p.37)
  • “A Quiet Nook,” photograph presented by the Victoria Sketching Club (ref.: AR 1882, p.38)
  • “Album of Photographs of works by modern German artists” (ref. AR 1883, p.33)
  • Several albums of photographs by Longworth Powers and others, of works of art and architecture in Italy, certainly or probably donated by Henry Coathupe Mais in about 1888; these include two albums catalogued separately here (substantially of architectural subjects), and another reproducing ancient and modern sculptures (for further details, see linked entries for Powers and Mais)
  • 6 Photographs of Raphael’s Tapestry cartoons: catalogued in NGV 1894, pp.107ff. and NGV 1905, pp.118 etc. (date of acquisition unknown)
  • “Sir Joseph Banks – Photo of Engraving by J.Smith after painting by Benjamin West” – gift of Prof.Morris (ref.AR 1898, p.27)
  • Series of stereographs of NGV works (including casts) by Boake; presented by Sands & McDougall 1900 (ref.AR 1900, p.30)
  • “Portrait of M.Le Brun” and “La Charite after A.del Sarto” (photographs chosen from Alfred Felton‘s collection under the terms of his will: ref.AR 1904, p.26)

Reproductions of decorative arts objects   

Finally, various replicas of decorative arts objects, some of them still in the NGV, are listed in the gallery’s various annual reports and early catalogues, especially after about 1880. In some cases, further research appears to be required in order to disentangle original works from replicas in this corpus of material (see now Decorative Arts – Introduction).

Relevant documented purchases include:

  • Franchi & Sons, London: Ewer and Tankard (electrotype reproductions), purchased 1862 (both still in NGV: refer catalogue)
  • Various examples of reproduction German etc.metalwork acquired from the 1880-81 Melbourne International Exhibition (ref.AR 1881, p.54)
  • “Electrotype reproductions, from Elkington and Co.” (ref.AR 1884, p.35; still in the NGV: refer catalogue for details)
  • “Reproductions of Keramic Art, by Minton” (ref.AR 1886, p.26; cf. NGV catalogue, apparently listing several of the examples listed in AR 1886)
  • “Roman Art Candlesticks, from forms in the British Museum” (ref.AR 1889, p.41)
  • A series of works described as plaster reproductions of metalwork and timber panelling (14th-17th century English etc.), listed in AR 1895, pp.25-26 (in some cases noting the originals as in the V&A and other collections)
  • An extensive list of historical examples of ceramic ware, described as reproductions of originals held in the V&A and other collections (ref.AR 1897, p.29) 



For the general issues involved here, see in particular Alison Inglis’s two detailed essays in Galbally & others (1992), pp.31-37 (for the Argus quotes cited above, see esp.nn.1 and 37) and 66-71 (including catalogue entries for chromo-lithographs etc.). See also Inglis, “Art at Second Hand” (1988). Cockerell’s 1937 report is reprinted in full in Cox NGV (1970), Appendix 6, esp.p.412 (quoted)

For Melbourne’s plaster casts, see especially Galbally “The lost museum” (1988); see also her essays in Galbally & others, The First Collections (1992). For a stimulating analysis of the general issues, focussing on the casts at the V&A, see Rune Fredericksen & Eckart Marchend, eds., Plaster Casts: Making, Collecting and Displaying from Classical Antiquity to the Present, De Gruyter, 2010, esp.pp.465-83: “‘The Question of Casts’ – Collecting and Later Reassessment of the Cast Collections at South Kensington” (by Diane Bilbey & Marjorie Trusted)

See also Bunbury Picture to Print (2006), including discussion and reproductions of the van Eyck facsimile by Hangard-Maugé & Schultz, pp.22-23. For autotypes, evidently a precursor of black and white photocopies, see e.g. https://www.thefreedictionary.com/autotypes (accessed 9/10/18)