William Taylor Smith Tibbits

Born: 1837

Died: 1906

Tibbits was a watercolourist and lithographer.

His business card describes himself as a Landscape Painter, specialising in “Watercolour Sketches” and “Views of private residences to which drawn and coloured from nature possess the advantages of unfading beauty and correct perspective” he also painted “Exquisite Miniatures in colour or Monotone”

His address at the time of this business card was 74 Albert St Windsor, near St Kilda Junction, Melbourne, Victoria.

He was born on 5 September 1837, son of Elizabeth and Smith Tibbit’s, a grazier engaged in mineral exploration in Victoria by the 1860s. William appears to have arrived in the colony in about 1866. Seven undated views of gold mines, shops and a hotel in the Newington area, Ballarat, were probably painted between 1866 and 1870. He moved to Neil Street, Ballarat, in 1870. On 24 March 1871 William married Rose Fulton, sister of the lithographer Samuel Fulton with whom he had possibly worked at F.W. Niven ‘s Ballarat printing works.

Tibbits painted View of Mr Bird’s Farm and Property, Scarsdale in March 1871, and other Scarsdale views appear to date from this time. In 1873 he visited Maryborough and painted sharp, naive views of the district hospital and other buildings. Between mid 1873 and 1874 he lived in Armstrong Street. Over fifty commissioned paintings survive from his Ballarat period. He travelled the district offering to paint houses for a guinea, with family members extra and animals 5s each. These landscapes generally feature a property or mining works, hotel, shop, store, church, saw-mill or private residence, each painted with obsessive attention to detail. Sometimes Tibbits deliberately distorted the perspective to show both front and side elevations of a building as, for example, Property of Mr Malton, Creswick where the side trellis has been unnaturally angled towards the viewer in order fully to display its glories.

In 1875 Tibbits moved to Melbourne. He settled at Merivale, Coburg, and acquired a large Melbourne and Geelong clientele for his house paintings. He also travelled extensively; a panorama, Wanda Dale (Hamilton AG), is dated 1876. Between 1875 and 1877 he began to sign and date most of his watercolours in the lower right or left corner and attach his label to them: ‘Mr W. Tibbits / Landscape Painter / Lithographer Engraver &c. Late of London / Executes Views of Private Residences &c. which / Drawn and Coloured from Nature possess the / advantages of unfading beauty and correct perspective / Address … / Terms from One Guinea / No Connection with Photography’.

From about this time substantial private residences and properties are his primary subject matter, his last known mining scene being painted in 1879. Grand watercolour views include Melbourne’s new Government House (designed by W.W. Wardell, completed 1876); the largest is Rupertswood, near Sunbury, the property of Sir William Clarke. He also painted wide panoramic views. In 1877 Tibbits moved to 74 Albert Street, Windsor, which he purchased soon afterwards. In August 1879 he was in Sydney, having been commissioned by the Illustrated London News and theIllustrated Australian News (Melbourne) to provide views of that city and its forthcoming International Exhibition. His portfolio, ‘consisting chiefly of views of the private residences of most of the leading residents in and around Melbourne’, was displayed at local businesses and attracted commissions, such as a view of Ginahgulla, Bellevue Hill, for James Fairfax (p.c.). During the 1880s he travelled as far afield as Table Top homestead, north of Albury, New South Wales. His watercolour of this extensive park-like landscape with the rugged Table Top Mountain in the background includes Tibbits himself seated on a tree-stump sketching (1887, Albury and District Historical Society).

A surviving copperplate circular dated 9 November 1878 solicits patronage in other branches of the arts:

To Public Bodies and members of Friendly Societies especially I would mention that I have directed my attention to that branch of a skilled pencil requisite in the difficult and delicate delineation of Complimentary Addresses which I illuminate in endless design incorporating any local items of direction, also generally all Lithographic Work combining the exquisite etching on copper, with the softness of Chalk so prevalent at present as an advertising media in Show Cards , Calendars and other requisites of well appointed and extensive Business Establishments … I am also in a position to supply facsimile copies of plans and designs by the photo-lithographic process (reduced or enlarged). As an Artist I have devoted years to the speciality of Landscape Drawings, views of public and private buildings, reproductions of Steel plate prints in color (also animal portraitures). My views drawn and coloured, from Nature, possess the advantages of unfading beauty, with correct perspective (never attained in photography); and I have great pleasure in stating that by a New Process“Camera Copies” equal to the original both in tone & color, are obtainable at a small cost, a desiderata never hitherto offered to the public.

(These sound like photographs of his paintings despite his regular public denigration of the process as a primary record.)

On the occasion of the 1888 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition Tibbits published Centennial Era Australia 1888: A Cloud of Witnesses Melbourne, Victoria. Distinguished Visitors, Prominent Settlers, Leading Citizens, Manufacturers —a single sheet printed with 325 portrait photographs. Subscribers provided photographs of themselves and agreed to pay 10 guineas for the finished publication, printed in New York. Several disappointed subscribers refused to pay and Tibbits took five of them to court, winning only one of the cases on appeal. The controversy and the depression of the 1890s appears to have damaged the business and his problems were exacerbated after 1891 when he entered into an unsuccessful mining venture, reopening a shaft near Linton previously mined by his father. No works are known from 1891 until 1894, when he issued a series of prints of scenes in western Victoria, Ballarat and Melbourne. Three watercolours dated 1896 survive. In 1897 he visited South Australia and painted three large properties: Wairoa at Stirling (outside Adelaide), Sunnyside and Wooton Lea.

Tibbits and his family moved to Sydney in about 1898. A view of Lithgow with inset vignettes of shops is dated 1902, and illustrations of business premises were produced as advertisements in the first issue of Australia Today in 1905. Lakeside, Queens Road [Melbourne] (LT) was apparently also painted after 1901, since the Australian flag with the Federation Star flies from the top of the tower. Tibbits died of bronchial asthma and cardiac failure on 15 December 1906 at his residence, The Grange, Liverpool Street, Sydney. His wife and their only child, Elizabeth, born in 1873, survived him.