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Artwork of the month
Edward William (E. W) Minchen 1852-1913
Almost always known as E W Minchen, Edward was born in the Swan River Colony (Perth WA) in 1852, the son of pioneer settlers James Minchen and Elizabeth Fisher who moved to the Victorian goldfields soon after his birth and eventually settled in Mooroopna, near Shepparton.
At some point the family lived in Prahan and Edward exhibited three landscapes at the Victorian Art Academy’s first annual exhibition in 1870. At the third annual exhibition of the VAA, in 1773, the Age reviewer thought that his work called for ‘no special mention’ and that the ‘tone throughout’ in one painting was ‘far too uniform to be pleasant’. Edward was, after all, just twenty-one.
Colonial art critics seemed to very prone to make subjective assessments of paintings in those days, often based on comparisons to reality. One critic a few years later said, of a painting Minchen displayed of Bondi, that ‘the sea is the wrong colour’. Another critic noted that another of his paintings was ‘carefully rendered; the trees and distance are very natural…’.
Edward would have been taught at the VAA by Louis Buvelot and, as a student at the National Gallery of Victoria School from 1874 to 1877, was taught by Eugene Von Guerard. By 1878 he was showing every sign of being a very talented and gifted artist.
His involvement with the National Gallery of Victoria and the VAA inspired him to try his luck as a professional artist in Sydney in 1878, now aged twenty-five. He made several journey to and from Sydney by steamship and found casual employment at the NSW Survey Office as a ‘lithographer-draughtsman’. He was also obviously meeting and mixing with Sydney- based artists, as he was a founding member, along with J C Hoyte, James Howe Carse and William Piguenit, of the Art Society of NSW and was one of a delegation that met with Premier Henry Parkes seeking assistance for the new organisation. Parkes was supportive enough to join and lend his name to the enterprise.
Edward exhibited watercolours and oils at the society’s first exhibition, held in the Garden Palace, Sydney, in December 1880, and was the society’s first treasurer.
In 1881 Edward married Maybella Inches and they lived at Paddington before moving to a harbour-front cottage at Woolwich where they lived until the death of their infant daughter in 1886. Edward then sold his skiff and the cottage and they moved to View Street, Hunter’s Hill.
Minchen had by now developed a passion for painting scenes of Sydney Harbour and exhibited many of these at various Art Society shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. He returned to the theme of ‘looking down the harbour’ often. In 1884 at the Victorian Jubilee Exhibition he showed Looking down Sydney Harbor, while Looking Towards Sydney Heads (valued at £5.5.0) was exhibited in 1887 at the Adelaide Jubilee International Exhibition.
His work as a draughtsman and lithographer for the Lands Department and the Survey Office led to a permanent position from 1884 and his work gradually took him away from exhibiting and serving on the committee of the Art Society.
A second daughter, Beatrice, was born in 1889 and the family moved to Chatswood in 1897. Edward continued to paint but his public service work as a photographer and lithographer saw him being less prolific than in the 1880s. In 1894, he started a new position as ‘artist’ with the Government Printer and, in that position, working with lithographer Henry Baron, produced a number of illustrations of native flora for the Botanical Society, which are in the archives at the Sydney Botanical Gardens.
His work was much admired in his lifetime and his contributions to the Art Society exhibitions were missed. The reviewer for the Illustrated Sydney News, reviewing the exhibition in September 1891, noted, ‘We do not see anything on Mr Minchen’s on the walls. This gentleman’s work is good enough to be missed.’
E W Minchen died in 1913, aged 61. He was a contemporary and colleague of some of our greatest landscape artists and his works are rather rare and valued today. We are lucky enough to have a few good examples of his work, which certainly show that, ‘This gentleman’s work is good enough to be missed.’
Looking Down The Harbour, Sydney 1880
Oil on canvas
46 x 68 cm
Signed and Dated lower right
Original Label verso stating the title and the artists name.
Provenance (19th century)
Victorian Jubilee Exhibition 1884- catalogue number 310 (Annexure 1)
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