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Longstaff, Sir John Campbell (1861–1941)

from Argus (Melbourne)

Sir John Longstaff, doyen of Australian artists, died yesterday in a private hospital in Melbourne. He had been in ill-health for some time, and his condition became serious last week when he injured himself in a fall at his home in East Melbourne.

For many years an outstanding figure in Australian art, Sir John Longstaff was a portraitist with a world-wide reputation. His portraits were 5 times awarded the Archibald Prize. He was a member of the Royal Portrait Society, an exhibitor at the Paris Salon since 1891, and at the Royal Academy since 1893. He is represented in most Australian galleries. Sir Keith Murdoch, National Gallery Trustees president, yesterday paid great tribute to Sir John Long staff. His work, he said, had been of great value to Australia. Many of his portraits would live a long time as good and representative art, and they would have historic interest for many generations.

"His influence as a painter of great culture, fine taste, uprightness, and knowledge has been felt throughout the community," Sir Keith Murdoch continued. "He had generous sympathies, helped many young artists, and was beloved by his fellow painters. He took great interest in the work of the trustees of the Gallery, where he sat for more than 20 years. His colleagues had a deep respect for his judgment."

Born at Clunes (Vic) on March 10, 1862, Sir John Longstaff was educated at the Clunes State school, and showed exceptional ability in his youth. First step in his career was to win the first travelling scholarship given by the Victorian Government in 1887 with a picture now famous, "Breaking the News."

With his wife, a daughter of the late Mr Henry Crocker, the young artist went to Paris in 1888 where he studied at the atelier of Fernand Cormon. He at once began to attract attention there with his forceful and charming style. In 1891 he received an honourable mention at the Paris Salon for a portrait of his wife and their infant son. After this he was an annual exhibitor in Burlington House until 1896 when he returned to Australia and remained for 5 years.

During this period he painted many fine portraits including those of Sir Arthur Snowden, Mrs. Butler, Robt. Landale, Rupert Ryan, Jas. S. MacDonald, Henry Lawson, J. F. Archibald, Sir Edward Knox, Sir Frederick Darley, Marjorie Williamson, Leslie Mather, Mrs. George Lansell and Mrs. Alex Hay. Back in London in 1901 he established himself in St. Johns Wood where he painted numerous portraits including those of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Other well known works included "Burke and Wills at Coopers Creek" "The Sirens" and "The Lady in Black." During the last war he was official artist with the AIF in France and on his return to Australia in 1919 he completed a series of war pictures which are now in the Australian War Museum.

Despite his prolific production of portraits and other works, Sir John Longstaff found time to assist many Australian art societies. From time to time he was president of the Australian Art Association and the Victorian Artists Society, vice-president of the Society of Artists and foundation member and president of the Australian Academy of Art.

In 1927 he became a trustee of the National Gallery and was knighted in 1928, the first Australian artist to receive that distinction. He was awarded the medal of the Advance Australia Association in 1933. The funeral will leave the Camberwell branch of Le Pine and Son at 11am today for Springvale Crematorium, where Rev. O. J. Flock Hart will conduct the service.

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'Longstaff, Sir John Campbell (1861–1941)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/longstaff-sir-john-campbell-7230/text25004, accessed 27 November 2014.

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