CL 195 Australia News from Home
This print shows settlers in their hut, one of them is reading an account of the Great Exhibition of 1851. A native ‘postman’ has just brought a letter and has received a coin in payment which can be seen in the palm of his hand.
A companion to CL 196 News from Australia which can be read about here
Under the print on the steel printing plate is engraved "Australia. News from Home. Designed by H. S. Melville, and Engraved, Printed, and Published by G. Baxter, Patentee, 11 & 12, Northampton Square, Jany. 31, 1853 (Entered at Stationers' Hall)."
The original painting by Harden S. Melville was quite recently discovered in the National Gallery of Australia where it has the title - The Squatter’s Hut: News from Home” and clearly signed. It can be seen by clicking here
This painting was exhibited at The Royal Society of British Artists, London which opened on the 22nd March 1851 so this must be illustrating early settlers rather than gold prospectors as Courtney Lewis in his books had always stated, as the first Australian Gold Rush wasn’t until May of that year. The Great Exhibition newspaper must also be slightly pre-emptive as that wasn’t opened until May 1851 either but it’s construction must still have been major news at the time that this was being painted and the topical headline could have so easily been added at the last moment. The 1851 and subsequent gold finds in Australia must have been ‘news of the day’ and was quite possibly the reason that prompted Baxter to publish this print. The Gold rush connection being even more evident in the companion print which was published 16 months later, please see full details here
In Baxter’s republication list of 1864, for some unknown reason, it was stated as being from a painting by Freeman, Baxter’s plate only stated ‘designed’ by Melville rather than after a painting by, so unless an artist named Freeman had copied Melville’s work and that was the one Baxter used then the attribution to
Freeman can only be a mistake. As it was Melville and not Freeman’s name that appeared on the printing plate this seems inconceivable but perhaps that wasn’t referred to by whoever prepared the republication list? Interestingly the same attribution can be found on Le Blond’s blue labels that he placed on the reverse of his mounts on some of his 'fully finished' prints but this can be easily explained by the fact that the basis for Le Blonds ‘contract’ to purchase Baxter’s plates and printed stock from George Baxter Jr in 1868 was written on a copy of his 1864 republication list.
Le Blond's Blue Label which gives the artist's name as Freeman
Apart from being issued unmounted and on stamped mounts by Baxter it was also used on the cover of Jullien's "News from Home Quadrille” when under the print, in gold lettering, states, "Printed in Oil Colours by G. Baxter, the Inventor & Patentee"
To the left, as the print appears on the cover of the music sheets and above the 'rare' version which shows the trees through the doorway - on the back of that print is the wording 'News from home' - could this be Baxter's handwriting?
There is a rare version of this print where trees are seen through the doorway, a feature that is in the original painting but omitted by Baxter on all the standard versions. In the New Baxter Society newsletter (Vol 2 No 5) published in December 1988 the late Geoffrey Englefield wrote that in 1987 Sotheby’s Sydney branch, sold: “George Baxter. News From Home. Two prints including an unrecorded state, together with an autograph letter to Mr Arthur Ackerman presenting him with the first copy of ‘News From Home’ and hoping to send several copies within a few days’ - monochrome copy 1st state - colour printed copy 2nd state”. Autograph letter in the third person 11 and 12 Northampton Square (London), (Baxter’s address) 22 December 1852. The first state in monochrome is said to have included the trees and apart from the full colour copy that I illustrate here are the only two copies I can trace and were most probably unpublished initial trails. Perhaps this full colour copy may be unique, or do you know of
another copy? Please note the date of that letter a full five weeks before the prints were officially published.
Why were the trees taken out by Baxter? Perhaps there was some problem with the colour blocks, Baxter may have omitted to include the trees in the respective colour block and it was easier to erase the trees from the steel plate than re-cut the colour blocks and make new metal electrotypes? Perhaps it was that in the painting you will see the trees are white, something that we in today’s world wouldn’t be surprised to see in a sun bleached country but something that Baxter felt might not appear correct to his audience? If you click on the image of the 2nd version opposite and magnify you can still see the remnants of the stipple engraving that was used to make up the base of the trees. The Centenary Baxter Book of 1936 states that the version with trees can be found on music and on stamped mounts etc but I feel they have stated this error thinking there were two published versions.
Top right - the rare 'trial' version with trees visible through the doors as per the original painting - below the standard version but click and magnify and you can still the remnants of the stipple engraving at the base of the trees
Courtney Lewis reported seeing a copy where the inscription on the mount is in French, as follows: "L'Australie nouvelles du pays. G. Baxter, Brevete” – Interesting to note that we believe only this and its companion News from Australia as well as Descent from the Cross can be found on such mounts and, presumably must have been prepared for a particular reason, specific sales in that country or most probably specially for his stand at the Paris Exhibition of 1855?
As an update to the above, a painting came up for sale in January 2019 at the auction house of Wright Marshall in the UK described as:
“The manner of Harden Sidney Melville 'Australia News from Home', 19th Century Oil on canvas, Lot 143A - Oil on canvas, signed H.S. Melville, 62 x 79 cm, framed and glazed, bears label 'Australia News from Home H.S. Melville, the original of the Baxter print'. Comes from an old collection of Baxter prints in this sale. There are other versions of this painting.”
If the link is still working you can see an image here. They were obviously not convinced this was by Melville, even though it was so signed and gave an estimate of £300 - £400. It sold for £13,310 including premium!
That was surprising, especially the price, I personally thought that it wasn't particularly well painted, especially the faces. Technically that was the end of the story except that in Feb 2020, at Menzies in Australia, the painting surfaces again. It is definitely the same painting confirmed by chips to the frame next to the name plaque but this time there is additional information, the image is a lot better and can be seen on the auction house website. They state there is an inscription on the stretcher 'G Baxter 1852' and it comes with a letter from a member of the 'Baxter Family'. It seems strange that the UK auctioneer failed to mention this detail unless both items were concealed in the backing of the painting.
I have seen a copy of this letter in which the writer asked to retain his anonymity I will of course carry out his wishes. I have checked with another member of his enlarged 'Baxter family', i.e. though Baxter's wife Mary Harrild's line, and the writer is known to them although not personally. The letter was written in March 2013, just after the painting had been sold via another source and stated that it had been in the family since it was painted by George Baxter in 1852. Although I feel the writer totally believed what he was writing, a lot of the detail in the letter was taken straight from Courtney Lewis' books of the 1920's, I believe the story could easily have been blurred over the last 170 year moving around family members.
Personally I don't believe that this was painted by George Baxter based on the fact that I feel that that the faces were not of a standard I would expect from Baxter's work as an artist. Secondly Baxter is known to have worked in watercolours and I can't think of any other work (although original artworks by Baxter are not common) in oil paint as per the painting. Thirdly, as we discussed above, Baxter's initial engraved steel plate and colour blocks included the trees through the doorway, as per the original Melville painting. Why would Baxter copy Melville excluding the trees only to include them again in his initial prints?
As a thought perhaps this painting is by Freeman. That would explain why Baxter credited him in his republication list of 1864 and only stated after a 'design' by Melville on the steel plate? That would possibly also explain the standard of the work, sorry Mr Freemen, as well as the reason it was in oils rather than water colour and, also WHY it was in the Baxter family possession. The only thing it doesn't explain is why it doesn't include the trees.
One interesting thing that arises from the letter and hasn't been noted before is that when you compare the Baxter Print to the original Melville, apart from the trees, there is one noticeable difference - Baxter has decided to tone down the print and omitted most if not all the blood on the dead animals which is clearly visible in the original Melville painting.
Baxter’s versions are stated to be found in various states:
Sunk Stamped Mount, with Gold Line Border (I do not know what they meant in the 1920’s by ‘Sunk’ – can anybody help?)
Stamped Mount, with Title in English.
Stamped Mount, with Title in French.
Stamped ‘Autograph’ Mount which is said to have been from Baxter’s 1864 re-issue.
Unmounted, with or without Title and Marginal Lettering.
It was produced from twelve blocks, and originally sold at 1s. 6d.
Le Blond also printed from Baxter’s plate and Courtney Lewis states “his production is inferior. The whole colouring has a chalky appearance, and the cheeks, eyes, and lips are almost entirely devoid of colour. There are patches of white showing here and there” I find this is not particularly helpful nd a hard print to differentiate, even with two pristine prints. Hopefully one can be found with Le Blonds signature that hasn’t been trimmed or with Le Blond’s Blue Label.