L. Bernard Hall

L. Bernard Hall: The man the art world forgot

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: UNSW Press
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    L. Bernard Hall
    Book Description:

    As Director of the National Gallery of Victoria from 1892 to 1935, L. Bernard Hall was Australian art’s most influential administrator and teacher, yet his achievements have been virtually written out of history. In this book Gwen Rankin uncovers Hall’s fascinating story. Never as conservative as sometimes suggested, Hall came to Australia for the love of a woman and stayed for the love of a gallery, establishing a record of service unrivalled today. Based almost entirely on primary source material, this biography includes many of Hall’s own paintings and drawings, along with striking archival photographs.

    eISBN: 978-1-74224-647-5
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    John Poynter

    ‘A dark, thin man of 32, quiet, unassuming in manner, reticent (a great quality in a director), grave and clear-headed, calmly putting together his belongings for the journey to the antipodes.’ So theArgusdescribed the English artist Lindsay Bernard Hall in January 1892, as he prepared to sail to take up his appointment as Director of Melbourne’s National Gallery and Head of its Art School. Hall was, in fact, unsure whether he should leave Britain, and how long he might stay in Melbourne. He could not foresee that he would hold both positions for 43 eventful years – a record...

  5. 1: What’s past is prologue: 1850 to 1877
    (pp. 1-15)

    To begin the story of Bernard Hall with his birth in Liverpool in 1859 would be to ignore some of the most important influences that shaped his life. He was the product of an era in which almost anything was possible and the more adventurous the individual, the more richly diverse the range of achievement that could be expected. Both of Hall’s parents were the progeny of such remarkable individuals, although each family had followed its own distinctive path. Because many aspects of their experience impacted in some way on his early development, it is with them that the narrative...

  6. 2: Well fitted in arts: 1879 to 1891
    (pp. 16-37)

    Hall arrived in Antwerp at the end of April 1879 and took a room in a lodging house on the Rue des Navets, an area favoured by foreign students.² He was eighteen years of age and his art at that time was very much the product of the South Kensington system. The fine detail and expressive shading that distinguish the sketches he produced for the South Kensington examiners had been achieved by the time-consuming cross-hatching and stippling taught to students of that system. Perfection in this method had been accorded more importance than any consideration of the time it took....

  7. 3: Meanwhile in Melbourne: 1864 to 1891
    (pp. 38-54)

    By 1891 Bernard Hall was thirty-two years of age and, in every respect, an adult. The institution known as the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria, despite being able to boast a similar life span, was still experiencing many of the problems commonly associated with adolescence. Initially the product of the burgeoning economy and civic ambition that fuelled the extraordinary expansion of Melbourne in its earliest decades, it is arguable that the institution’s fitful, often politically regulated growth after that time created an impressive but unwieldy edifice, lacking the infrastructural coherence and direction necessary for trouble-free administration. Although...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. 4: Salad days: 1892 to 1894
    (pp. 55-79)

    Henry Blackburn, publisher and art critic, met Bernard Hall in his studio in the first week of 1892. The article he subsequently wrote, apparently commissioned by the MelbourneArgus, was a journalistic blend of personal observation and details gleaned elsewhere – not all of which were accurate. He could have been forgiven, however, for failing to recognise that, far from taking the upheaval calmly, Hall was torn by doubt about his future. To leave London was to leave everything he had established over the better part of a decade for a position more likely to diminish than advance his reputation as...

  10. 5: These most brisk and giddy-paced times: 1895 to 1900
    (pp. 80-99)

    Bernard Hall had to wait until April 1895 for formal confirmation of his re-appointment. The notice, forwarded by Undersecretary, Charles Gopp, stipulated, however, that the appointment could be terminated on ‘three months notice being given by either party on the first day of any month’.² It may simply have been coincidence that a few days later the same officer informed the Trustees that the funds available to pay ‘temporary’ or part-time employees – those outside the umbrella of thePublic Service Act– had been drastically reduced. They could dispense with the services of either Hall or McCubbin, or they could cut...

  11. 6: Infirm of purpose: 1901 to 1903
    (pp. 100-112)

    In 1901 Bernard Hall agreed to join the deputy heads of the Melbourne and Sydney Mints to judge the designs submitted for Australia’s new Federal Seal. When the forthcoming adjudication was discussed in the press in August, however, the only information released was that ‘a gentleman well known in Australian art circles’ would work with Robert Barton and Edward von Arnheim to select the best of the 350 entries received.² It seems that concern for Elsie, who was then in the eighth month of her second pregnancy, had created some uncertainty about his ability to participate, leading the competition’s organisers...

  12. 7: Such stuff as dreams are made on: 1904 to 1905
    (pp. 113-128)

    There was no provision for annual leave in Bernard Hall’s agreement with the Trustees; an oversight that had caused some confusion in his early years in Melbourne when he was disconcerted to find that he could not leave the city, even during the students’ vacation, without receiving their formal approval.² By 1904, however, there was a tacit understanding that he could, if he wished, have some time away during the summer break. In keeping with his resolve to maintain a more meaningful role in his son’s life, he took the boy to Sydney in January of that year, bent on...

  13. 8: The bright day that brings forth the adder: 1906 to 1909
    (pp. 129-148)

    By the summer of 1906 Bernard Hall’s ‘big’ picture, now renamedSleep, was nearing completion. For the artist it was atour de force – a demonstration of the principles he considered fundamental to good art, conceived and executed in the aesthetic tradition to beautify a wall and stimulate the viewer’s senses. Its subtle neoclassicism, underscored by the intricate ‘Greek’ fret spanning the foreground, was offset by the Eastern appearance of one handmaiden and the ahistorical assemblage of appointments that accentuated its compositional rhythms. Narrative implications were almost non-existent. Although few Melburnians would recognise this, the nude and her two attendants...

  14. 9: Divers liquors: 1910 to 1914
    (pp. 149-167)

    Harriet Grace Thomson, the fourth child and second daughter of Royal Engineer, Francis Thomson, and his wife Georgiana (née Fenwick), was born in 1884 at Bopitiya on the island then known as Ceylon, and lived there until 1888, when her father’s tour of duty ended and the family went home to Saint Helier in Jersey. Soon after their return, concerns about Georgiana’s health after ten years in the tropics prompted a decision to emigrate. They embarked for Australia in 1889, leaving their oldest child, Louisa Emily (Lettye), to study art in the care of relatives. On arrival in Melbourne, the...

  15. 10: The dogs of war: 1915 to 1919
    (pp. 168-183)

    Spirits were high in Melbourne at the beginning of 1915, boosted by a widespread view that Germany would soon be taught a richly deserved lesson. The young men who volunteered in these early months did so in the belief that they were embarking on a brief and glorious adventure. William Montgomery’s son, now a student in Bernard Hall’s classes, wrote to the Trust: ‘I beg to make application for permission to continue my studies in the painting school. I have been accepted as a volunteer for active service and consequently would be unable to make use of my renewal until...

  16. 11: The seeds of time: 1920 to 1924
    (pp. 184-200)

    As the patriotic zeal that had fuelled the war years began to wane, Bernard Hall, like many others, found it difficult to take up the threads of a life that had been changed in ways people were only beginning to understand. He was tired, exhausted by the effort expended in mounting two solo exhibitions in 1919 without skimping his other responsibilities, and dauntingly conscious of his age and a workload that could only be expected to increase. Although he had no personal quarrel with Frank Rinder, the resumption of a purchasing system he deplored had left him despondent and questioning...

  17. 12: The hungry lion roars: 1925 to 1928
    (pp. 201-218)

    Although there were no classes in January, the Trustees often held their first meetings early in the month, and expected the usual reports to be ready. In the past this had been little more than a chore to their Director, but in 1925 Bernard Hall found the prospect exciting. The committee formed in response to J. T. Collins’s resolution of 1924 came together on 8 January. Embracing the members of the Purchase Committee and three further Trustees, the new body observed the convention which gave Leeper and Baldwin Spencer ex-officio membership of every committee of the Board, but responded to...

  18. 13: One foot in sea and one on shore: 1929 to 1933
    (pp. 219-239)

    When it came to cherishing grudges there were few who could match the older members of the Felton Bequests’ Committee, so that Bernard Hall was unlikely to have been surprised to find his application for the advisorship had been rejected. If this seriously troubled him his papers hold little evidence, his spleen perhaps exhausted in the outpourings of 1924 and 1927. In a letter written to James MacDonald, now Director of the Sydney Gallery, he merely observed that ‘We are “becalmed” as far as the Felton Bequest is concerned’, devoting the rest of the epistle to discussing his work and...

  19. 14: Full circle: 1934 to 1935
    (pp. 240-254)

    Any misgivings Bernard Hall may have had about his standing among Melbourne’s artists were surely overcome in January 1934 as he prepared to leave for England to reclaim the mantle he had relinquished nearly thirty years earlier. Members of the Melbourne arts community were joined by others from across the nation, all wanting to wish him a successful mission. Congratulatory letters arrived from around Australia and so many lunches and dinners were tendered that he spent the first days of his voyage on a self-imposed fast. The Victorian Artists’ Society, the Savage Club, the Australian Art Association, the Melbourne Music...

  20. Epilogue: Ripeness is all
    (pp. 255-258)

    If the measure of a poppy lies in the effort expended to cut it down, there is evidence in abundance that Bernard Hall once stood among the tallest of the tall. In Melbourne the first architects of his truncation were Lionel Lindsay, the man Hall had always regarded as one of his closest friends, and his brother Daryl. The letters between the Lindsay brothers in the late 1920s and early 1930s reveal a burning ambition to take control of Australia’s cultural development, and it may be that they saw a need to discredit the ‘old order’ to clear the way...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 259-272)
  22. Further reading
    (pp. 273-274)
  23. Index
    (pp. 275-286)