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J.C. Williamson, c. 1913

John Longstaff

oil on canvas (frame: 103.0 cm x 89.5 cm, support: 76.5 cm x 63.5 cm)

James Cassius Williamson (1845–1913), actor and theatrical entrepreneur, worked and performed in theatres in his native Pennsylvania before coming to Victoria under contract to George Selth Coppin in 1874. Over twelve months, he and his comedienne wife became wealthy and famous. They returned overseas, but in 1879 they arrived in Australia having purchased from WS Gilbert the exclusive Australasian rights to perform HMS Pinafore. In 1880 Williamson formed his (Royal) Comic Opera Company. Initially sole lessee of the Theatre Royal in Melbourne, he was in and out of partnerships from 1882, mounting increasingly lavish productions with international stars, opening new ventures such as the (New) Princess’s Theatre in Melbourne, and refurbishing or leasing other venues such as Her Majesty’s in Sydney. By 1904, he had 650 employees on his payroll. Having made an unrivalled impact on Australian theatre, Williamson died in Paris, and was buried in Chicago.

Sir John Longstaff (1861–1941), born in Clunes, Victoria, studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne from 1883 to 1887 and thenceforth at Corman’s in Paris. Becoming friends with the Australian expatriate impressionist John Russell, he met Toulouse- Lautrec and others, but his own style remained conservative and he exhibited at the Salon and the Royal Academy in the early 1890s. His personal attractiveness and charm gained him easy access to wealthy society, where he found portrait sitters including King Edward and Queen Alexandra. Longstaff painted Williamson in his St John’s Wood studio at about the same time as he painted portraits of Williamson’s daughters, Marjory and Aimée (known as Tootles). Having painted his commanding portrait of Nellie Melba in 1923, he won the Archibald Prize five times between 1925 and 1935; during this period, in 1928, he was knighted. From 1927 until his death in Melbourne in 1941 he was a trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Donated in 2009 by the family of Aimée Viola Horsley, daughter of J.C. Williamson. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2009.161

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

John Longstaff (age 52 in 1913)

James Cassius Williamson (age 68 in 1913)

Subject professions

Performing arts

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