A sporting and livestock painter, Woodhouse senior was born in Hadley near Barnet, Essex, on 26 December 1820. Both his father, Samuel Woodhouse, and his uncle, John Thomas Woodhouse, were painters as was Frederick, although as a young man he spent some time in the Essex Yeomanry Cavalry. He married Mary Bysouth in 1846 and they came to Victoria as assisted migrants in the Parsee , arriving at Melbourne in May 1858 with their four sons. Two other sons were born in Australia. Woodhouse was soon successful as an equine artist; Bell’s Life in Victoria (of which he was one of the founders) details commissions in October and November 1858. He painted and engraved Flying Buck , winner of the first Champion Stakes in 1859.
The pre-eminent sporting artist of his time, Woodhouse became best known for painting every Melbourne Cup winner for more than thirty years, from the first in 1861. During a long, successful and prolific career, he visited New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia and documented much Australian racing and rural history. He worked mainly in oils, usually on canvas but quite often on board. He painted champion racehorses, show-horses, Clydesdales, trotters, hunters, greyhounds, cattle and sheep as well as hunting, coursing and fishing scenes, landscapes and narrative works.
His obituarist in Table Talk claimed that Woodhouse had started the first life classes in Melbourne with the sculptor Charles Summers, for whom he later drew the horses and camels in the bas reliefs on the Burke and Wills monument. He certainly exhibited at the Victorian Fine Arts’ exhibitions held in Summers’s studio in 1860 and 1861, on the latter occasion showing a historical painting, Buckley Discovered by the First Settlers (also known as The First Settlers Discover Buckley and Batman’s First Meeting with Buckley and the Natives , oil on canvas, La Trobe Library). It won the prize offered by the Art Union of Victoria for the best painting on a historical theme and was reproduced as a photolithograph by Batchelder & O’Neill for distribution to art union subscribers in 1861 (copy Dixson Galleries V2 B/3). The painting was shown again at the 1866 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition together with others including The Start and Portrait of a Bull . In 1866 he won the prize for the best painting of a group of horses in the South Australian Society of Arts’ annual exhibition, Adelaide. In 1869 he was represented in both the Melbourne Public Library and the Geelong Mechanics Institute exhibitions.
A foundation member and councillor of the Victorian Academy of Arts, Woodhouse exhibited with it in 1870, 1872 and 1873; he resigned as a member in 1877. His oil painting The Smithy , for sale at 25 guineas, was included in the category of ‘Historical Picture, or Tableau de Genre’ at the 1870 Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition. During the 1870s illustrations after Woodhouse’s paintings were reproduced as both engravings and photographs in horse and cattle sale catalogues and early stud-books. He contributed to illustrated newspapers such as the Australasian Sketcherand the Town and Country Journal and initiated a series of Australian sporting prints, Woodhouse’s Australasian [sometimes Australian] Winners , which continued until 1900, most of the lithographs being drawn by his son Frederick junior and one by another son, Edwin. He also designed racing, steeplechasing, coursing and other sporting trophies (some made by Fischer of Geelong), including the Victoria Gold Cup awarded for the principal race at the first meeting of the Victoria Amateur Turf Club in 1876. He had five paintings in the London Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886. With his son Herbert , he wrote, illustrated and published A Record of the Melbourne Cup in 1889; in December 1892 they held a joint exhibition at Scott’s Hotel, Collins Street, Melbourne.
Frederick Woodhouse continued to paint until his death at the age of eighty-nine, sending paintings to the Yarra Sculptors’ Society exhibitions in 1904, 1906 and 1908. He died at Melbourne on 29 December 1909, survived by his second wife and five of the six sons from his first marriage, four of whom were also painters.
Colin Laverty 1992