Artwork of the month

Lithographic Drawing of The Fancy Dress Ball 1844

$ 4,400

34.2 cm x 47 cm

Lithograph on paper


Title: Lithographic Drawing of the Fancy Dress Ball 1844 (Victoria Theatre NSW)

Artist: William Nicholas

Lithographer: Attributed to William Kellet Baker.

Medium: Lithograph

Size: 34.2 x 47 cm (image) 39 x 51 cm (sheet)

Titled in the lower margin:

“Lithographic Drawing Of The Fancy Ball At The Victoria Theatre” accompanied with the Australian Coat of Arms (Kangaroo and Emu)

On the 21st of August 1844, the Mayor of Sydney, James Wilshire held a fancy dress ball in the Victoria Theatre. Social cohesion seemed to be the primary objective. The pit of the theatre was temporarily boarded over to provide a large ballroom for the festivities.

A significant social event, the secretary to Sydney, John Rae was appointed to report on the ball for the Sydney Morning Herald, he wrote:

“ One leading and most agreeable feature of the evening’s entertainments was the total absence of all class feeling. This must have been perceptible to all…… It was very gratifying to observe all classes mixed together”.

John Rae also identifies the artist of the lithograph as William Nicholas in his 1876 Scrapbook. According to John Rae, The sketch by William Nicholas represents the ballroom at the moment when:

“An Australian Chief, with his blanket, vaults with hop, step and jump, to the midst of the waltz, and armed with a wommera, waddy, and lance exults in a wild Aboriginal dance”.

In the week following the ball, Sydney printmaker Edward Barlow, produced Nicholas’s drawing as a lithograph, hoping to attract the patronage from those whom attended the Ball. The lithograph was an effort to create a memento of the occasion. He sold the lithograph for the price of 7s 6d (pre publication) and 10s 6d (post publication).

William Baker, also a Sydney based printmaker, produced another ‘pirated’ edition of the lithograph that was advertised as his own and sold at a cheaper price (2s, 6d). Barlow struck back by publically denouncing Baker’s edition in The Sydney Morning Herald. A court case followed where Barlow lost to Baker on technical grounds.

In terms of composition and size, the lithographs were similar. The difference was the title. Barlow formally dedicated his lithograph to The Mayor of Sydney, J.R Wilshire Esq and citizens whom attended. Baker’s lithograph simply titles the festive scene as a “Lithographic Drawing of The Fancy Dress Ball”

There is a related photograph held in the Mitchell library collection (V*/Soc/3) that uses the same title, the other copies of the lithograph in the collection seem to be from the Barlow edition, not the Baker edition.


To View William Nicholas’ Biography CLICK HERE 

William Nicholas| Day Fine Art

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