Henry James Johnstone
Monday, 29th August, 2011
The 11th in the series of articles by the Regional Art Gallery’s education officer, Catherine Farry, about the artists who painted the pictures in the city’s collection.
Henry James Johnstone was born in Birmingham, England in 1835. He studied art before joining his father’s photographic firm.
In 1853 he moved to Australia and went to the Victorian goldfields, trying his luck with prospecting for three years.
In 1862 he opened a photographic studio in Bourke Street in partnership with Miss E. F. K. O’Shaughnessy. The studio became a successful business and in 1866 they were awarded a medal for the excellence of their coloured and plain portraits that they exhibited in at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition.
They went on to become the leading firm for celebrity portraits, taking the official photos of the Duke of Edinburgh and Eureka Stockade hero Peter Lalor, amongst others.
Johnstone retained an interest in painting and studied landscape painting under Louis Buvelot and Thomas Clark and in the 1870s he began exhibiting his work.
A flamboyant personality, Johnstone was highly visible in Melbourne society and the popularity of his work increased.
He left Australia in the late 1870s, living in the US before returning to live in England in 1880. He was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1886 and his work hung in the Royal Academy a number of times.
Johnstone continued to paint Australian landscapes aimed at the Australian market, “A Ford on the Acheron River” being one of them, but he also concurrently worked on other paintings as well.
Johnstone died in 1907 and although he had not lived in Australia for many years, his work was still popular here at the time of his death.
“A Ford on the Acheron River” was donated to the city in 1948 by Otto Von Rieben who had been the Managing Director of the Barrier Miner.
Born in 1863 he had made his fortune in Broken Hill before moving to Adelaide on his retirement. He bought a house, Attunga, on Kensington Road. He later moved to Pomona at Stirling and eventually gave Attunga and its gardens to Burnside council to be used as a nursing home for returned soldiers.
From this evolved Burnside Memorial Hospital and although the hospital is now situated in a new building, the house is still in use for medical purposes and the garden is a public reserve.