Skip to main content

Ticketed entry is in place to safely manage your visit so please book ahead. Need to cancel or rejig? Email bookings@npg.gov.au

Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

William Saurin Lyster, (mid to late 1860s)

Davies & Co

albumen silver carte de visite (support: 10.3 cm x 6.4 cm, image: 9.1 cm x 5.8 cm)

More images of this artwork

Dublin-born operatic impresario, William Saurin Lyster (1828-1880), is credited with the ‘regular establishment of opera as one of the public entertainments of colonial life in Australia’. Lyster arrived in Australia with his company in 1861, opening at Melbourne’s Theatre Royal with Lucia di Lammermoor, Maritana and Lurline. Despite good reviews the initial season ran at a loss. Lyster persisted however, touring to Sydney to build upon his growing popularity. Following success there, the company returned to Melbourne to establish their base and in so doing established Melbourne as the country’s opera capital. With some thirty operas in their repertoire, Lyster’s Opera Company was said to have given over 1300 performances, touring the colonies and New Zealand for eight years, after which the company disbanded. Lyster returned to Australia in 1870 following a brief stint in Europe where he purchased music scores and the latest technical equipment to stage his productions. He leased Melbourne’s Princess Theatre and engaged Italian and English companies in alternating seasons of operas sung in Italian and English, the latter proving more profitable. Though Lyster himself was not a musician he had a penchant for Italian opera and knew well the public taste, the press describing him as ‘a liberal, pushing, energetic business man, personally liked… and possessed of that valuable quality, tact.’ His intimate knowledge of the opera and his business acumen succeeded in providing Australia’s general populace with world-class operatic performances.

English photographer William Davies had arrived in Melbourne by 1855. He is said to have worked with his friend Walter Woodbury and for the local outpost of the New York firm Meade Brothers before establishing his own business in 1858. By the middle of 1862, ‘Davies & Co’ had rooms at 91 and 94 Bourke Street, from where patrons could procure ‘CARTE de VISITE and ALBUM PORTRAITS, in superior style’. Like several of his contemporaries and competitors, Davies appears to have made the most of his location ‘opposite the Theatre Royal’, subjects of Davies & Co cartes de visite including leading actors such as Barry Sullivan and Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, and comedian Harry Rickards. Examples of the firm’s work – portraits and views – were included in the 1861 Victorian Exhibition and the London International Exhibition of 1862; and at the 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition the firm exhibited ‘Portraits, Plain and Coloured, in Oils and Water Colours’ alongside a selection of views for which they received an honourable mention.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by Graham Smith 2009

Accession number: 2009.69

Currently not on display

Copyright image request form
Request a digital copy of an image for publication

Artist and subject

Davies & Co

William Saurin Lyster (age 32 in 1860)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill

Carte-o-mania!

Previous exhibition, 2018

Drawn from the NPG’s burgeoning collection of cartes de visite, Carte-o-mania! celebrates the wit, style and substance of the pocket-sized portraits that were taken and collected like crazy in post-goldrush Australia.

Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer
Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer
Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer
Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer

Sideshow Alley

Infamy, the macabre & the portrait

Previous exhibition, 2015

Death masks, post-mortem drawings and other spooky and disquieting portraits... Come and see how portraits of infamous Australians were used in the 19th century.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery

Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

We would like to thank our partners.
© National Portrait Gallery 2020
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.