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A good facsimile

Saturday 29 August 2015

People who look after historic places and collections are most attracted to the authentic, the real, the genuine. Facsimiles and reproductions, not so much.

But there are times when a facsimile can be a good thing​—​such as at the Old Museum in Brisbane, where visitors are now enjoying a new copy of an old picture.

The framed facsimile drawing hanging in the Old Museum.

The Old Museum was originally called the Exhibition Building, and it replaced an earlier exhibition building that was destroyed by fire in 1888.

The Queensland National Agricultural and Industrial Association (ancestor of the present RNA) held an architectural competition for the design of the new building. The winning architect was George Henry Male Addison, who used the pen name Rough Sketch (the competition rules required the entrants’ names to be kept secret until after the judging).

G H M Addison illustrated his design in a beautifully executed pen, ink and gouache drawing​—​in no way a rough sketch. I as­sume that this drawing, in its original oak frame, stayed in the architect’s possession and when he died in 1922 it passed to his son and practice partner George Frederick Addison, and when G F Addison died in 1955 it passed to his partner Herbert Stan­ley Macdonald. Stan Mac­donald gave it to the Queensland Art Gal­lery in 1958. Since then it has been kept safe but mostly out of sight, except as an entry in the collection database.

G H M Addison’s rendering of his competition entry, now in the collection of the Queensland Art Gallery.

As is usual in design competitions, the building was not built in accordance with the winning design. The brief was altered and the budget was cut back. Details of land tenure and finance had to be sorted out. Eventually in 1891 work began on a plainer brick building, designed by Addison, that included a large concert hall as well as the exhibition hall. Construction started around the same time as the deep depression of the 1890s hit​—​a depression that put the National Association into financial strife.

In 1899 the Queensland government rescued the National As­so­ci­ation by taking over the building and adapting the exhibition hall wing to house the Queensland Museum. The concert hall was managed by the Brisbane City Council until the City Hall was finished in 1930; the concert hall was then used by the Queens­land Art Gallery until 1970. The museum moved out in 1987. Since then the building has been home to the Queensland Youth Orchestra and other arts organisations.

The building has been, and still is, an important place for public gathering. Generations of Queenslanders have fond memories of visits there. This is the place where the observation of Anzac Day was first proposed, where Dame Nellie Melba gave a farewell concert, where Bert Hinkler’s Avro Avian and Pablo Picasso’s La Belle Hollandaise were displayed, where beautiful shows of flowers appeared each spring, and where musicians and their audiences still gather.

Detail of the drawing, in shades of cool blue-grey gouache with warm ochre accents.

I recently arranged for a copy of G H M Addison’s Rough Sketch to be made and hung in the building, where it helps to interpret the story of this place. This was a small aspect of some excellent work done by the Queensland Department of Public Works to conserve the building.

The drawing in its original oak frame which I photographed and measured in the Art Gallery.

The copy is a close match for the original, although the two will never be seen together. The success of this project brings credit to the people who helped to make it happen. At the Queensland Art Gallery Michael Hawker (Associate Curator) and Phil Law­less (Assistant Registrar) brought the picture out of storage and into the inspection room so that I could record the details of the frame, and Samantha Shellard (Conservator) removed it from the frame so that Natasha Harth (Photographer) could make a new digital image. The facsimile print was made by Martin Barry of Brisbane Digital Images, and placed in an accurate replica frame made by Graham Reynolds. Matt Artemieff from Building and Asset Services hung the picture in the exhibition hall entrance.

If you are in the neighbourhood I recommend a visit to see the finished work. The coffee is excellent too.

filed under Conservation + Prints

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