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Carl Kahler (1856 - 1906)
The finest and largest of all Australian horse racing images, in which each person shown is identified by Kahler. The Austrian-born artist Herr Carl Kahler stopped in Melbourne on his travels around the world in 1885, the same year as … Read Full Description
Rest of the World
Orders over A$300
ship free worldwide
Carl Kahler (1856 - 1906)
The finest and largest of all Australian horse racing images, in which each person shown is identified by Kahler.
The Austrian-born artist Herr Carl Kahler stopped in Melbourne on his travels around the world in 1885, the same year as the visiting English journalist George Augustus Sala proclaimed the city ‘magnificent and marvellous’. One of many artists to arrive in Australia from Europe during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Kahler seized the opportunity to paint and flatter the gentry and bourgeoisie in Marvellous Melbourne when that city looked towards the jubilee celebrations of the Melbourne Cup, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and the centenary celebrations of British colonisation, which the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition staged in the Carlton Gardens exemplified.
Melbourne society played host to Kahler’s art until 1890 when, on the eve of the depression, Kahler left the colony for North America leaving a legacy of paintings behind him in which his famed Melbourne Cup paintings were prominent.
Arriving from Europe via London, and in 1888 the press announced that Kahler’s first painting in the Melbourne Cup series, The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day, had ‘excited an interest unexampled in the art history of Australia’. Feted as ‘celebrated historical pictures’, Kahler’s series was championed for depicting ‘the great carnival of the leading race club of Australasia’. Moreover, the photogravure prints published after the paintings by the importing business Pfaff, Pinschof & Co. in Melbourne, and executed by the prestigious art printers Goupil & Co. in Paris, encapsulated Marvellous Melbourne’s social season of the year, and ensured that this season was established as the annual ‘national event’ of Australia. In the late Victorian age of competitive capitalism, Kahler’s art reflected the bourgeoisies’ prominence in the colony, and the reproductive prints were designed to replicate and disseminate this imaging around Australia and abroad. Precedence for prints and paintings depicting racing themes and subjects was established in Victoria but the genre generally represented the horses, the jockeys and the turf.4 Eighteen eighty-six, the year Kahler commenced working towards his series, marked the silver jubilee of the Melbourne Cup, an event that had become the annual social ritual of the colony since the Cup was first run in 1861 at Flemington race course.5 Kahler’s paintings featured the elite racing carnival goers and were calculated to advance their status within Australia. It was as if Kahler’s paintings would confirm what the author and journalist Richard E. N. Twopeny observed about Melbourne’s racing season: The Melbourne races attract three or four times the number of visitors than the Sydney races do; all public amusements are far better attended in Melbourne; the people dress better, talk better, are better, if we accept Herbert Spencer’s definition of progress.6 The 1880s was the height of Melbourne’s speculative boom and, in the minds of many ‘representative men’, the city had come of age. This achievement was endorsed by the spate of histories and tomes trumpeting Melbourne’s progress from its beginnings View page 67 as a port district in the 1830s and its astonishing advance since the gold rushes of the 1850s and 1860s. Within months of coming ashore, Kahler installed his collection of paintings and ‘exquisite curiosities’ in his Elizabeth Street studio. Its walls were lined with sixteenth-century German tapestry and stained glass panels, antique Venetian lamps hung from the ceiling and Eastern carpets spanned the floor. According to the Argus, the adornments of his studio ‘were altogether unique in this part of the world’. Described as a ‘museum as well as an atelier … reminiscent of the reception rooms of some famous painter in Paris or Rome’, Kahler’s studio integrated his collection of paintings with his European and Far Eastern antiquities.7 Creating an atmospheric ambience with his décor, Kahler hoped to attract patrons to his studio who might associate it with the Old World grandeur and civilisation of continental Europe. For Kahler, the market for portraiture appeared strong in Victoria and the Melbourne Cup season was the perfect subject for him to exploit the genre. His three works for the series painted from 1887-89 were The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day (1887), The Derby Day at Flemington (1888-9), and The Betting Ring at Flemington (1889).8 Kahler’s portrait figures in these were worked from life and photographs and arranged into compositions, which were designed to reproduce well in photogravure prints. His paintings were assemblages of the colonial elite and bourgeoisie, and they meticulously detailed the costume and accessories of his subjects. Keenly observing the social order in which a woman’s anatomy was defined by her costume, Kahler studied the dress and etiquette of his subjects ensuring that the women appear flirtatious but not ‘fast’, a characteristic diminishing their moral status in a patrician society that codified the few public spaces a respectable women could inhabit.9 With close attention paid to the clothing of the Governors of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia, as well as the businessmen, politicians and sportsman depicted in his paintings, Kahler painted compositions in which his leading personages were separated from the masses in the backgrounds. Eschewing the harsh social realities and ‘notorious’ Chinese immigrants, the working classes and the underdog in and around Melbourne’s streets and lanes, Kahler constructed pictures in which a hierarchical ordering imaged a multifarious yet coherent affluent white society at the races. These strategies were designed to increase the sale of the reproductive prints. Indeed, some reports tabled the names of the prominent dignitaries and the elite represented in the paintings, and keys that identified those persons accompanied the prints, Kahler amongst them.10 By early December 1886, Kahler prepared preliminary studies towards the Melbourne Cup paintings. The Argus predicted that the paintings would interest ‘thousands of people’, and the popular weekly Table Talk, reporting on the progress of Kahler’s first painting, The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day (1887), noted that Kahler ‘proposed to introduce as many portraits as possible’, the results of which ‘will be an eager competition amongst the ladies’ to figure modishly in front of the View page 68 ‘human anthill’.11 Eighteen eighty-seven marked Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and the Flemington Racing complex had a new Grand Stand, refreshment rooms, and extended lawns. ‘The appointments for the comfort of Visitors are now the Finest in the World’, boasted Table Talk.12 Kahler was strategic in his figurative groupings and linked New South Wales society to Victoria’s, thus mollifying inter-colonial rivalry through the union of the vice-regal heads. He was also mapping out a potential inter-colonial market for the forthcoming photogravures. In the Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day, the Governor of Victoria Sir Henry Loch stands at left in the foreground next to Lady Carrington, the Colonial Consort of New South Wales while Governor Lord Carrington is positioned behind Elizabeth, Lady Loch. The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day was exhibited at the studio of Melbourne’s premier portrait photographers, Messrs Johnstone O’Shannessy, which the proprietors of the copyright for Kahler’s painting, Pfaff, Pinschof & Co., in Melbourne arranged to be opened by Governor and Lady Loch in December 1887. Kahler had already held private viewings at his Melbourne studio, expecting to take subscriptions for the prints from amongst the guests who featured in the painting.13 Reports about the Melbourne Cup paintings were printed in the society pages as far away as Perth, and superlatives about the first painting abounded in the Melbourne press.14 Attempting to make the forthcoming prints more desirable, one report claimed that most of them would be sold in Europe and only some were reserved for sale in the colonies. Advertisements in the Argus trumpeted that the ‘portraits of prominent Australian visitors to the Cup form a striking and important feature of the work, which historically and artistically, must be considered A TRIUMPH OF ARTISTIC SKILL and GENIUS’. And Table Talk thought that it would ‘convey to the people of the mother-land a true and faithful idea of the “Ascot” of Greater Britain’. The Age observed that the painting was the first in the series of three ‘painted for engraving’, and was intended to ‘epitomise Melbourne society’. Kahler also exhibited with the painting the sketches and ébauches he made towards the painting, and a large picture depicting himself as ‘the artist in his studio’.15 The sketch and the ébauche were methods that demonstrated Kahler’s mastery of continental techniques. A preliminary exercise to a large painting taught at continental ateliers and academies, the ébauche developed from a preliminary sketch of the composition or a detail, such as a head or a figure in charcoal, which was then dusted off. The remaining lines were painted over in a transparent, diluted paint and the main masses were laid down. Generally, light areas were applied in opaque impasto and dark areas and shadows applied with a translucent wash, the artist being careful not to join areas of shadow. Building up from a mosaic-like effect, the half-tones were then linked and the exercise ended with several ‘inspired brush-strokes’ to enliven the surface and retain its freshness. The ébauche showed the relation of light and dark values towards a separate finished painting, from which it was not to be confused.16 According to the Melbourne Argus, Kahler’s exhibition was well attended and because of the ébauches View page 69 displayed, ‘those ignorant of the difficulty and yet delicacy of art are led to understand it and appreciate both’. James Smith, literati and the leading art critic for the Argus, valued Kahler’s painting methods and promoted the artist’s standing in Melbourne. For Smith, Kahler brought Old World grandeur to New World society in Victoria. A longstanding advocate for a public art gallery since the 1850s gold rush era as a force to ‘improve’ Victoria’s citizens, Smith had envisioned that its architecture ‘would impress itself upon the attention and memory of people approaching Melbourne … just as St Paul’s, St Peter’s and St Stephen’s do those who draw near London, Rome or Vienna’.17 In late 1887, to coincide with the exhibition of Kahler’s first painting, he published a pamphlet titled Herr Kahler’s Celebrated Historical Picture, which included an artist biography and information about the painting for viewers to consult. Biographies of artists in the colonies were uncommon, and Smith transposed the artist’s past into the colony’s present. Another quality of Kahler’s art impressed Smith: his paintings were the antithesis of the Impressionist style, which was emerging in the works of other Melbourne-based artists, including Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and Tom Roberts, during the mid 1880s. Smith grew to reject Impressionist painting on the grounds that the sketchy evocations were ‘wholly foreign to nature and destitute of all sense of the beautiful’. And if ‘impressions’ were exhibited as finished works of art, Smith believed that the moral responsibility of the artist to improve and inspire the public was compromised.18 Transplanting the artistic verities of European civilisation would elevate colonial society and ensure the cultural progress of its civilisation. If Kahler exhibited his oil sketches and ébauches, which he made towards his finished painting The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day, he was following the European academic method of painting, whereby the sketch was a preliminary exercise to the finished work and showed the artist’s skill and virtuosity. Thus, Smith lauded Kahler’s techniques and effects in his pamphlet and gave the artist a European pedigree. Not surprisingly, Smith also figured in Kahler’s painting. Born in Linz in 1856, Kahler, according to Smith, possessed a temperament ‘keenly alive to the grandeur and loveliness of the visible world’ and like Mozart, his ‘genius had blossomed around the burial place of Hayden in Salzburg’. Smith praised Kahler’s training at the Munich Royal Academy and his aristocratic patronage in Europe. Kahler had two paintings ‘well placed at the Paris Salon’ at the Louvre and one of these was purchased by the Government of Austria and hung in the National Gallery in Vienna. Touring the world, Kahler, Smith extolled, arrived in Melbourne and established his well-known studio, replete with antique rarities, many of them from the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Smith’s rhetoric was designed to advance Victorian colonial civilisation through Kahler’s associations with European ‘art culture’. According to Smith, Kahler emulated the rich colours of the old Venetian School and he produced the sheen and texture of draperies with such verisimilitude that Veronese would not have View page 70 disclaimed him for a pupil or a colleague. Some of his finest efforts in portraiture were executed in Melbourne, and it was here that Kahler found the model for his racing carnival painting then being exhibited. In deference to the achievements of the passing old order of colonists, the painting demonstrated to Smith the ‘pitch of elegance and prosperity our forefathers seemed to have attained’. It was ‘a page taken from the history of Victoria; a vivid reflection of its social life … Posterity will turn to it as a picturesque memento of the present generation of Victorians’, Smith opined and continued: ‘It will show who and what manner of men and women they were, as also what were the costumes of the epoch to which it belonged’.19 Smith’s laudation promoted the artist’s standing and Kahler canvassed patrons amongst Melbourne’s gentry. Surviving correspondence suggests that he approached Lady Janet Clarke, the wife of Victoria’s first Baronet, Sir William Clarke, to ensure that she featured in his paintings as a drawcard for prospective patrons. In April 1887, Lady Clarke replied to Kahler from her country mansion Rupertswood at Sunbury, apologising for not having a recent portrait photograph: ‘I have not been taken for sometime, but I will try and get you one. Also one of Sir William. It will give me much pleasure to visit your charming studio when I have again a day in Melbourne. Just at present having only just returned [from Sydney], I find much to do and am very busy’.20 But he was not always successful in establishing patronage, as the letter from a Mrs Munro forwarded from her Melbourne mansion indicates: ‘I very much fear’ she wrote, ‘that Mr Munro would not give the price for a portrait … as you would value it. You know many gentlemen in Australia have not a just appreciation of your beautiful art; they have led lives of hustled hurry; their ideas never soar above a good investment’.21 Backing a winning horse at the Melbourne Cup was an extension of ‘a good investment’ and, following a European tradition of securing patronage from persons keen to have themselves represented at the racing season’s leading event, Kahler cultivated potential patrons who sought social prominence, which the reproductive prints of his three paintings would confirm. If Kahler solicited patronage, it is unlikely that he received payment for including portraits in his paintings, which were to be reproduced as photogravure prints through subscription. From New Zealand where he was on a painting holiday, Kahler denied allegations that he accepted payment from persons to appear in his paintings of the Melbourne Cup Series, ‘one of the greatest sights of the world’. And Table Talk reported that Kahler had instructed his Melbourne solicitors to take legal action against the Ararat Advertiser for publishing a claim that he was paid by ‘prominent members of the Victorian aristocracy for painting their portraits into his picture’. No further action appears to have been taken concerning this allegation.22 Obsequious and persistent, Kahler moved throughout Melbourne society. Ensuring his visibility, he exhibited portraits and paintings with the Australian Artists Association and the Victorian Artists Society, including a full-length study of Lady Loch, which was later hung in the State Drawing Room of Government House, and a half- View page 71 length pastel portrait of her two young daughters, the patronage for which he solicited from the Governor and his wife.23 Active in supporting colonial painting and an advocate for raising aesthetic taste in the colony according to contemporary British standards in art and ornament,24 Lady Loch was perhaps the most important person for Kahler to cultivate as a patron in Melbourne. In 1886, he painted her in a romantic glade setting dressed in a fashionable eighteenth-century revival gown, draped with a ‘Watteau’ pleated back.25 Reviews of Kahler’s paintings indicate that his market for portraiture was different from that of other Melbourne painters. Tom Roberts, for example, like Kahler, exploited this genre to increase his reputation and earn money, but he posed his female subjects in contemporary settings and attitudes, influenced by the aestheticism of the Anglo-American painter, James McNeill Whistler, and portraits by the Royal Academician Sir John Everett Millais.26 In a small colonial art world, Kahler exhibited at group shows but there is no evidence that he socialised with the ‘impressionist’ group. Kahler’s work was selfconsciously grandiloquent; his portraits and paintings were reviewed favourably for their associations with the court painters and rococo artists of eighteenth-century Europe. ‘Like Watteau, he is the painter of high life’, the Argus reported, ‘and like him he delights in placing his figures either in sumptuous apartments … or in groves through which the sunlight only penetrates’. These associations characterised the reviews of his paintings throughout the late 1880s.27 His portrait of ‘a lady in a robe’, for example, was singled out for praise by the Argus reviewer of the Victorian Artists’ Society Spring exhibition in 1888, and served as a foil to Arthur Streeton’s ‘clever vagueness’ in his landscapes and also to the work of Charles Conder, both artists whose work had fallen under the ‘spell of impressionism’.28 Invitations to Government House functions secured Kahler further patronage. He hoped to illustrate scenes from a ball there for the Australasian edition of the Illustrated London News, an 1888 centenary enterprise published weekly in Melbourne, designed to confirm that colonials were Greater Britons. Governor Loch’s aide-de-camp, G. Seymour Forth, sent Kahler a memorandum listing the dimensions of the buildings erected for a Fancy Dress Ball, as information for the artist to include with his proposed sketch for the upcoming Illustrated London News.29 But it appears that Kahler’s expectations to contribute to the llustrated London News were not realised. Designed to girdle the colonies of the British Empire and published by the paper’s London representative William James Akhurst in Melbourne, the paper included supplements about the history and life of the Australian colonies, with illustrations ‘from the pencils of special artists despatched from London’.30 Kahler successfully promoted himself in Alexander Sutherland’s two-volume, Victoria and its Metropolis: past and present, a major centennial year publication trumpeting ‘Marvellous Melbourne’, the ‘history’ of the colony and the achievements of the passing gold generation. Kahler was one of the contributing artists, which included View page 72 John Mather, George Collingridge, Julian and George Ashton, Phil May, Frank P. Mahoney, Arthur Henry Fullwood and others, whose works were engraved for black and white illustrations. Historian Geoffrey Serle noted how immortality could ‘be bought in this puff biographical compilation’. Including over 6,000 biographies of ‘pledged’ purchasers at six guineas, it was released in time for the Centennial Exhibition, when Melbourne swarmed with visitors. According to Serle, by 1889 the courts were full of cases against pledgers who had not paid up.31 Characteristically, Kahler included his biography; in fact, he was only one of several artists indexed in the tome’s pages. Basically a distillation of Smith’s biography and laudations catalogued for the pamphlet to accompany the exhibition of The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day, Kahler’s ‘biography’ concluded with the value this painting held as ‘a page taken from the history of Victoria, a vivid reflection of one phase of its social life’.32 Kahler’s 1888: Government House and Botanic Gardens was the frontispiece to volume two. This was a foil to the frontispiece in volume one after a painting by George Rossi Ashton’s depicting John Batman. The ‘founder’ of the colony, Batman boated his way down the Yarra in 1835 as he surveyed the ‘virgin’ lands as ‘the place for a village’ accompanied by colleagues and conciliatory Aboriginal ‘cicerones’, the latter from whom Batman had negotiated a spurious treaty to possess their territories. This image propagated Batman further as Melbourne’s founding father and visionary of the progressive British colonial civilisation that Melbourne apparently had become.33 Presenting an idealised, picturesque composition that suggested Melbourne’s progress and civilisation since the cultivation of the ‘primeval wilderness’, Kahler’s picture in volume two celebrated the Botanic Garden’s vistas and plantings designed from the time of the building of Government House in the 1870s.34 Kahler’s picture depicted the intimacies of bourgeois leisure framed by the garden’s verdure and flora, overseen in the background by the tower of Government House, the vice-regal residence of Governor and Lady Loch. Indeed, the figure of the fashionably attired woman clasping the hand of a child may be Kahler’s veiled homage to Lady Loch. Certainly, the woman wears the style of bonnet, which the Argus reported Lady Loch had ‘taken a great fancy to’, and which she wears in Kahler’s painting The Derby Day at Flemington.35 Celebrating the cultivation of ‘exotic nature’ in the colony, the subtitle to Kahler’s picture reads: ‘The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose’, (from Isaiah 35.1), a measured contrast to the caption for Ashton’s depiction of Batman: ‘This will be the place for a village’. Kahler’s Racing Carnival series was a commercial venture with the Melbourne importers, merchants and publishers, Pfaff, Pinschof & Co. This large firm, with branches in Adelaide and Brisbane, had an office in Hamburg to protect the interest of its head-office in Melbourne and to charter shipments of the ‘numerous products of continental industry’ from across Europe to the Australian colonies.36 Perhaps encouraging the idea of the series from the outset, this firm purchased the copyright of the projected ‘Melbourne Cup Series’ from Kahler, sending by early 1888 The Lawn at View page 73 Carl Kahler, ‘The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day’. Oil painting, 1887.Victoria Racing Club Collection. View page 74 Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day to Messrs Goupil & Co., the long established Parisian company of printers, and specialists of photogravure printing. The owners of Pfaff, Pinschof & Co. were prominent members of Melbourne’s German-speaking community. Formerly the Honorary Secretary to the Commission representing Austrian art manufactures at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition and the chief representative of Austrian manufacturers at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition, Herr Carl Pinshof was Consul for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Herr Alfred Pfaff was his former Executive Commissioner. Kahler socialised with them, especially through the German Club, for which he painted the portrait of the German consul Herr Brahe, and at functions hosted by Pinschof leading up to the 1888 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition, at which German arts and industries were prominent.37 As Consul for Austria, Herr Pinschof patronised Kahler, almost certainly inviting him to his residence in The Avenue, Windsor, and to his country property, Hohe Warte (Belmont) at Macedon. This was located near the Governor’s Cottage and other mansion estates, in rank with the hill stations of British colonial India, belonging to the Melbourne gentry. The well-known German-born photographer John William Lindt appears to have produced the photograph of at least one of the paintings, from which Goupil’s of Paris made the photogravures, because he registered his photograph of The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day under Victorian copyright law. A part of Pinschof’s circle, Lindt was technologically innovative and he most likely used his photographic image of Kahler’s painting as an advertisement for his successful practice in Melbourne.38 The primary purpose of the photograph, however, was to advertise Kahler’s Racing Carnival Series and secure sales for the prints, and in efforts to emphasise the ‘national significance’ of Kahler’s depictions of the Melbourne Cup season, Pinschof organised his agents to visit Tasmania and Brisbane throughout 1888 with photographs of the painting. A Mr F. B. Rayner was sent to Hobart with photographs of The Lawn at Flemington to interest Tasmanian sportsmen in appearing in the next two paintings of the series, and Kahler exhibited his ‘Cup Picture sketches’ at the Tasmanian Art Association later that year in Hobart.39 To secure sales of the prints, a Mr Griffith went to Brisbane where an extract from the Argus published in that city’s press reported that Kahler’s painting was exhibited in Paris and acclaimed by the Moniteur des Arts for depicting the ‘Longchamps of Melbourne’. A vivid presentation of ‘one of the brightest and gayest aspects of Australian society’ in Melbourne, Kahler’s painting was heralded as ‘the greatest success in the world of arts’; it had drawn the ‘fashionable and sporting world of the French capital’ to the gallery. The Sydney Morning Herald noted the painting’s success in Paris and emphasised that colonial sportsman could soon obtain copies of ‘what may be called an Australian national subject’.40 A standard commercial practice, Pfaff, Pinschof & Co. employed canvassers who travelled around Melbourne raising subscriptions from, View page 75 Carl Kahler, ‘Government House and Botanic Gardens’. Frontispiece to volume two of Victoria and its Metropolis, Melbourne: McCarron Bird, 1888. amongst others, hoteliers on whose walls the racing subjects were popular. And Kahler himself had advertised in Sydney in early 1888 for a man to procure orders from around Sydney and New South Wales for the photogravures of his three Melbourne Cup paintings.41 Kahler’s second painting in the series, The Derby Day at Flemington, was still on its easel when Pfaff, Pinschof & Co. produced its brochure advertising Goupil’s prints of View page 76 Carl Kahler, ‘The Derby Day at Flemington’. Oil painting, 1888-1889. Victoria Racing Club Collection. Kahler’s three ‘Celebrated Historical Paintings: The Melbourne Cup Series’, in efforts to secure pre-sales by subscription.42 It is not incidental that this brochure included a quote about the Melbourne Racing Season from the writer and Unitarian minister (and later theosophist), Moncure Daniel Conway, who gave an extensive lecture tour in New Zealand, Sydney, Melbourne, Geelong, Tasmania and then Melbourne and Sydney again throughout the second half of 1883.43 Conway lectured on social evolution, spirituality, and the importance of women on the wisdom and progress of civilisation.44 He endorsed the Bishop of Melbourne’s belief that the arts ‘ought to be used for the enlightenment and happiness of people’, and he advocated the opening of public galleries on Sundays for people to utilise their day of leisure beneficially45 Attempting to reconcile religion with science and evolutionary theories, Conway equated beauty with humanity’s moral progress, a maxim undoubtedly attractive to aspiring middle-class colonials. ‘Much has been said, and of late, against the Melbourne Cup on both utilitarian and moral grounds’, the advertising brochure for Kahler’s ‘The Melbourne Cup Series’ stated before quoting Conway’s belief that the Cup was an adaptive and worthy social institution in Melbourne.46 Exhibited in the Athenaeum Gallery, Melbourne, in early 1889, the second painting, The Derby Day at Flemington depicted Lady Loch placing the blue ribbon of the turf around the neck of Trident, the winning horse in 1886, surrounded by View page 77 Photogravure print of ‘The Derby Day at Flemington’ produced in 1890 by Pfaff Pinschof and Co. spectators. Around two hundred figures were included, fifty or so of them portraits of men, women, and children. ‘Mrs Blair’s aboriginal’, a young indigenous boy dressed in a little Lord Fauntleroy-styled costume, was cast as a civilised colonial master in-the-making, a ‘curiosity’ for the pathetic amusement of contemporary spectators amidst the racing carnival’s setting. Standing alone, he is scrutinised through binoculars by the well-dressed little girl in front of him and facilitates Kahler’s play on the Victorian fascination with looking at curios and ‘specimens’. The press hyperbole proclaimed that The Derby Day at Flemington’s predecessor had ‘excited an interest unexampled in the art history of Australia’.47 Kahler’s second painting was predicted to be just as popular and the forthcoming photogravures by Goupil & Co. were keenly anticipated. After its exhibition closed in Melbourne, Kahler took the painting to Sydney for exhibition. The Sydney Bulletin lauded Kahler’s painting of the Melbourne racing season as a ‘veritable page in the history of Australia’ and after the private viewing opened by the Governor, Lord Carrington, at Beale’s Buildings, George St, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that the political, business and social luminaries Kahler represented endorsed press opinions that the painting was the ‘GREATEST SUCCESS IN THE WORLD OF ART’. In efforts to raise more subscriptions for the prints, Kahler extended its exhibition until the middle of March 1889.48 The growing interest in ‘art history’ was encouraged in Victoria through the View page 78 importation and production of reproductive prints, and the National Gallery’s acquisition of Arundel Society chromolithographs in the early 1860s after Old Master paintings and Italian medieval frescoes.49 Reproductive prints had a ready market from the 1850s and their production after the paintings of ‘established’ artists in the colony, including Eugéne von Guérard, Nicholas Chevalier, and S. T. Gill was commercial. Moreover, the spectacular tour of the Royal Academician William Powell Frith’s Derby Day (1856-8) between 1864-5 was accompanied by reproductive prints of the painting for sale, and other prints, including many after Rosa Bonheur’s Horse Fair (1853-5).50 From 1872, the newly established Art Union of Victoria annually awarded subscribers a work of art, often a chromolithograph, photographs of an artwork, or a book illustrated with engravings. Photomechanical prints became more popular during the 1880s, and, by the late 1880s, the multiplication of Kahler’s Racing Carnival series by Goupil’s prints addressed the popularity of art at prices suited to the new middle classes. From the outset, Pfaff, Pinschof & Co.’s publishing venture appealed because of the photogravure technology invented, as the Age claimed, by Goupil & Co. Valued as a more superior method of reproduction than steel engraving, the process of photogravure added ‘faithfulness and faultlessness of execution’ to an engraving. Indeed, the reason for the proprietors of the copyright to close the exhibition of Kahler’s first painting in January 1888, was to ‘keep their promise to subscribers of having the photogravures of the work’ in Melbourne by the end of that year, and in conjunction with a projected exhibition of Kahler’s remaining two paintings in the series.51 Photographs of the paintings were sent to Paris, and Goupil stipulated that it needed plenty of time for the exacting process. In November 1889, the prints of The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day and The Derby Day at Flemington arrived in Melbourne and Pfaff, Pinschof & Co. had registered the former with the Office of the Print Sellers’ Association in London. According to one report, the former picture was already historic because ‘two at least of the prominent personages in the animated scene have passed away from our midst’.52 Table Talk reported that the production consisted of 300 hundred artist’s proofs, 400 proofs before letters, 600 letter proofs and a number of India prints. Each print measured ’19 inches by 31 inches’ and it hoped that a photogravure would ‘find a place in all the private galleries of our wealthy Australians’ and the Government would make an effort to keep Kahler’s paintings in Victoria.53 By early January 1890 Kahler had despatched the third and last painting, The Betting Ring at Flemington, to Paris54 and all the photogravures of his three paintings were in circulation throughout late 1890. Kahler’s last painting included portraits of jockeys, bookmakers and prominent sportsmen and the background showed two members’ galleries, a portion of the grandstand thronged with spectators and the stand on the hill crowded with a mass of people. The Betting Ring depicted some fashionably dressed women standing behind prominent portrait groups of ‘well-known Australian businessmen, politicians and male View page 79 dignitaries’, but Kahler did not feature many women because the picture was ‘intended to be less a society picture than a national one’.55 Such rhetoric upheld the ambitions of patrician stakeholders in the political and economic pursuits of Victoria’s progress and Melbourne’s position as the financial capital of the Australian colonies. This patrician position was emphasised by the key to this painting, for which the women were not included in the black and white silhouette and none of their names were listed. Kahler himself featured prominently in the centre of this painting, the print and its key. James Smith’s praise for Kahler’s Racing Carnival series was effusive, but the racing pictures were unsold. Kahler had been appointed a representative on the jury assessing art in the German Court at the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition while Smith was appointed to consider any appeals against the jury’s decision.56 In December 1889, Kahler approached Smith, who was also the treasurer of the National Gallery of Victoria, with a view to selling the series to the Gallery. Dear Mr Smith. By your influence it would be most likely that the Trustees of the Melbourne Gallery would purchase the pictures offered in the right way – my price for the three pictures is 15,000 pounds or 5,000 pounds each which is (after four years hard work) I think not much compared with, if I am not mistaken 7000 pounds that was paid for The Derby day [sic] by Frith … It is of course needless to say that the contents of this letter will remain known to you and myself only. Kahler more or less attempted to bribe Smith by offering him a substantial commission: As this is a business like any other I shall place in your hands £3,000 commission in case of selling the pictures for above mentioned amount and leave it intirely [sic] to yourself to dispose of this sum in the way you think best to interest people for it.57 His reference to Frith’s painting was calculated because the Melbourne press puffed that Kahler’s paintings were Australia’s answer to Frith’s popular Royal Academy picture. Smith liked the ‘realism’ of Frith’s technique and his belief that Impressionism was corrupting modern art. Further, Smith appealed to Frith’s diatribe on Impressionism in his condemnation of the ‘9 by 5 Impression Exhibition’ held in Melbourne that year.58 But Kahler and Frith’s portrait subjects were different. Like a mid-Victorian anthropologist, Frith depicted the physiognomy and gestures of a heterogeneous class mix of English revellers at the English Derby, whereas Kahler strategically depicted the ‘who’s who’ of colonial society. Kahler’s asking price for the series was also astronomical. Frith relied on Britain’s industrialists and merchants, but their wealth was unmatched in colonial Victoria, even amongst its few wealthy private collectors.59 The funds of the Trustees of the National Gallery at the Public Library were limited after expending £4,000 on Alma Tadema’s The Vintage Festival (1871) in London, one of three paintings from England acquired just before the 1888 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition.60 Indeed, the highest price the Gallery paid for art at this Exhibition was £2,000 for the large bronze View page 80 Carl Kahler, The Betting Ring at Flemington’. Oil painting, 1889. Victoria Racing Club Collection. View page 81 Photogravure print with accompanying key below of ‘celebrities’ featured in The Betting Ring at Flemington’ produced in 1890 by Pfaff Pinschof and Co. View page 82 Title-page of An artist’s sanctuary: catalogue raisonne of the contents of Herr Kahler’s studio . . . to be sold by auction by Messrs. Gemmell, Tuckett, and Co. . . . on Thursday, 20th February, 1890, Melbourne: McCarron, Bird & Co., 1890. Rare Books Collection. sculpture, Saint George and the Dragon, by Queen Victoria’s favourite sculptor, the Anglo-German Joseph Edgar Boehm.61 Smith did not agree to Kahler’s proposition, and by late January 1890 Kahler announced his intention to leave Australia.62 Kahler’s decision to leave was probably motivated by the end of the Exhibition season, the recent departure of Governor and Lady Loch whose tenure had expired, and, perhaps, signs of the land boom’s downturn. Further, Herr Pfaff, Consul of Peru and Pinschof’s business partner in the print View page 83 enterprise, was travelling abroad and Kahler attended his farewell banquet at the fashionable Gunsler’s Café.63 The climax of Marvellous Melbourne had passed. Planning to move on, he advertised the sale of his art and antiques from his studio.64 The Age proposed that this collection was unsurpassed outside of an artist’s studio in Europe: ‘Since the disposal of the collection of HANS MAKART in Vienna, no such a SUPERB MUSEUM of WORKS of ART and EXQUISITE CURIOSITIES has been broken up in any part of the world’. The catalogue listed the objets d’art in Kahler’s collection, and included several with tantalising provenances including silver teaspoons purportedly belonging to Sir Francis Drake. Moreover, Kahler had acquired a large Gobelins tapestry by ‘outbidding the curator of the Royal Museum at Dresden’. The introduction evoked the ambience Kahler had created to attract patrons – and now bidders – to his ‘sanctuary’: To ascend from the noise, the bustle, and agitation of Elizabeth Street into this tranquil and isolated spot was like walking out of the nineteenth and into the sixteenth century. You entered another epoch, and another atmosphere. Everything was quaint, mediaeval and artistic.65 Just before the sale, Kahler advertised it by exhibiting two paintings depicting his studio in the windows of Allan’s music warehouse. The Argus reviewer, probably James Smith, enthused about the atmospheric lights and shadows of these two works. The paintings of his studio were akin to the Old Dutch painters, and the clarity and finesse of Kahler’s technique discriminated each object ‘with a master’s hand’ that ‘lingered lovingly over each detail’. Eulogistic descriptions praised the way each object stood out in relief and no touch contributing to the impressive effect was omitted.66 This auction did not include the Melbourne Cup Series, but it resulted in the sale of Kahler’s antiquities and many of his paintings. Carl Pinschof, amongst other businessmen, was a ‘spirited bidder’. To clear the rest of his paintings, Kahler held another sale in May 1890. But again the ‘celebrated historical pictures’ were not listed. With his studio dismantled in March, Kahler held this last sale at Gemmell & Tuckett’s Art Gallery, the enterprise of Melbourne’s premier auctioneers established to foster the sale of Australian art.67 Kahler had exhibited there previously with the ‘breakaway’ painters from the Victorian Artists Society, including Charles Rolando, James Peele and John Mather, none of whom was in the Impressionist group.68 In early July, Kahler sailed from Melbourne to New Zealand. He then travelled to San Francisco at the end of 1890 and later worked and exhibited in New York.69 Having auctioned his accoutrements and paintings, he sold the Melbourne Cup Series independently for far less than what he sought from his former champion, James Smith. Pinschof bought the series before Kahler’s departure for £3000, and marketed more photogravures. In the early twentieth century, then the series was sold to the racing enthusiast George Tye by a daughter of Carl Pinschof, and they were presented by the Tye Family to the Victoria Racing Club in 1964.70 Now the flagship of its racing history art collection, the Melbourne Cup series was also unique in Kahler’s oeuvre.
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