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Portrait of Mrs Sarah Fairfax
, c. 1864

by Edwin Dalton

pastel on paper laid on canvas (frame: 116.3 cm x 98.5 cm, sight: 86.2 cm x 68.5 cm)

Sarah Reading (1808-1875) came to Sydney from England in 1838 with her husband, John Fairfax (1805-1877), who had left school at the age of twelve and been apprenticed to a printer and bookseller. Three years after they arrived, Fairfax and a partner, Charles Kemp, purchased the seven-year-old Sydney Herald, which they renamed the Sydney Morning Herald in 1842. This purchase marked the beginning of a family association with the paper that would last for over five generations and nearly 150 years. No other newspaper in the world has been so long under one family's control and no other family in Australia has subsequently formed such a successful entrepreneurial dynasty. In 1853 John Fairfax bought Kemp out, and his and Sarah's eldest son Charles John (1829-1863) joined the business. Another son, James, soon joined the paper as well.

Edwin Dalton was an English painter, photographer and lithographer who spent some time in North America before setting up as a portrait painter in Melbourne in 1853. Specialising in works in French crayon (pastel), he moved to Sydney to make a series of life-sized portraits of prominent families and local identities that were deemed so 'life-like' as to be 'almost laughable'. In December 1858 he advertised his 'invention', the crayotype or crayongraph (now called a biotype), a photograph coloured over with pastel. By June 1863 demand for his portraits far exceeded his capacity to supply them; by 1865 he had sold his business, which continued to operate under his name, and returned to England.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of John Fairfax Holdings Ltd 2002
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2002.80