For nearly two centures there has been confusion around pictures of E.L. Montefiore and S.T. Gill, particularly over the authorship of some small mid-1840s artworks. In this article I largely resolve that confusion, revealing a sketchbook doodle and a hidden signature and beginning a focus on the connection between the two men.
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Whose names would you doodle in a sketchbook on a five day sail, in cashed up cabin class, from Port Adelaide to gold rush Melbourne, in October 1852?
In his sketchbook, businessman and amateur artist Eliezer Levi Montefiore (1820-1894) played word games. He scrambled the name of British parliamentarian William Ewart Gladstone to get "a wild man will go at trees"). And he made four-letter word squares with the names of family members.
He made no progress with "LILY" and "GILL". GILL? Yes, the artist Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-1880)!
The doodles open this sketchbook marking Montefiore's move from South Australia and a fresh beginning in Victoria.
The sketchbook, previously attributed to another artist, was identified as Montefiore's by Nicholas Draffin in his 2014 article: An enthusiastic amateur of the arts: Eliezer Levi Montefiore in Melbourne 1853-71 .1 The word square is the sole reference in the sketchbook to Gill, who too had made a similar voyage earlier that year.
A Montefiore-Gill connection has been recognised for a long time, but its nature was unknown. This article goes some way to clarifying that connection.
The Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW) has a set of three watercolours with attribution, at time of writing, as "possibly by S.T. Gill or E.L. Montefiore":
I've previously dealt with the third picture in my article: S.T. Gill's Port Adelaide . The same conclusions apply to all three: they are watercolours – probably studies – all signed by Gill. Montefiore pencilled notes on two of them, initialling one. That Gill's characteristic street dogs are absent from King William Street further suggests a study rather than a finished painting. This street picture was of particular interest to Montefiore as the featured buildings are his, he pencilling below: "My Store" and "My Dwelling".
Frome Bridge was a popular subject for Gill. A view of this bridge appears in Francis Dutton's book, "South Australia and its Mines", published in London early in 1846. On page 119, Frome Bridge, Adelaide , is credited on the plate to E. L. Montefiore. But it is so like Gill's several bridge pictures that it is probably either a copy or a misattribution – perhaps even Gill himself agreeing to credit Montefiore. (Incidentally, the book's frontispiece – The Adelaide Plains: Taken from Wheal Watkins Lead Mine – is by Gill and incorrectly attributed in the book to "E. Gill".)
The Montefiore-Gill confusion has been exacerbated by another picture:
Both subject and style are the same as another wash drawing:
Race Course, Adelaide is signed "ELM" (lower left). On the reverse (also digitised) is an inked note: "Drawn by E.L. Montefiore, brother of Sir Moses Montefiore / Given to ACC Liardet by Mr L.P. Montefiore (nephew of Sir Moses Montefiore) / London 1902".
I had long noticed the "ELM" signature was heavily inked, in the spot Gill would typically sign, and hinted at something obscured. In September 2020 I viewed this picture and under good magnification I made out "STG" beneath "ELM". Perhaps the signature was altered at the same time as the reverse was inscribed, after both Gill and Montefiore were dead. The over-signing is puzzling.
Yet another picture adds to the Montefiore-Gill confusion. It has been titled "E.L. Montefiore's house, Adelaide, 1840s" probably since its accession into the National Library of Australia (NLA) as part of the Nan Kivell collection .
A catalogue note reads: "Drawing of E.L. Montefiore's house, after S.T. Gill; attributed to Gill by Rex Nan Kivell." A succeeding note adds: "Artist possibly E.L. Montefiore."
Two aspects of the rough little watercolour help clarify its identity:
The inscription brings to mind Gill's:
The obvious connection between the two pictures is the Youngs' Pulteney Street residence. The portrayals are not identical but they are very much alike. The brick chimney stack (which is commercial, not domestic) is in the same relative position in both views. The striped verandah awning is the same (though these were not uncommon). The houses are almost certainly the same. The Aboriginal man standing with spear – a typical Gill artistic device – is present in both.
The evidence supports the conclusion that Montefiore, not Gill, painted NK2038/32 and the "S.G" is Montefiore's acknowledgement.
The painting's subject is not certain, but it's possible it's the house of James Young of the Royal Sappers and Miners.3
The confusion between the pictures of Montefiore and Gill has been mainly caused by Race Course, Adelaide and NK2038/32. This article clears up that confusion and provides evidence, albeit indirectly, that Montefiore was, for a time, S.T. Gill's art student.
To Do: Draffin's article identifies three pictures as Montefiore's "careful copies" of Gill works. Given one of them – Race Course, Adelaide – is now known to be a Gill, I plan to examine the other two and have requested they be digitised.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to State Library of New South Wales and National Library of Australia for making works physically available for my study and to SLNSW, NLA, SLV, NGV and Trove for providing access to online resources used for this article.
David Coombe, December 2020.(Updated 17 Dec 2020. Original 11 Dec 2020.)
CITE THIS: David Coombe, 2020, S.T. Gill and E.L. Montefiore, accessed dd mmm yyyy, <http://coombe.id.au/S_T_Gill/S_T_Gill_and_E_L_Montefiore.htm>
1. Nicholas Draffin, 2014, An enthusiastic amateur of the arts: Eliezer Levi Montefiore in Melbourne 1853-71 (NGV "Art Journal" 28), accessed dd mmm yyyy, https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/an-enthusiastic-amateur-of-the-arts-eliezer-levi-montefiore-in-melbourne-1853-71/
2. The signature looks somewhat like "ELMontefiore/55", however the dot between the 5's disallows this reading, and Montefiore's 1855 absence from South Australia mitigates against it.
3. James Young was formerly of the Royal Sappers and Miners and later a draftsman in the Survey Office. The reference to the house of "Mrs Young", instead of "Mr Young", could be explained by Young being frequently absent from Adelaide for long periods on survey. On the back of Lieutenant Magill's Flinders Street military barracks , the amateur artist writes: From the S.E. ... from the side next Mrs Young's house while I stood in a field adjoining the premises outside the wall. This barracks location would be consistent with a Sapper and Miner. A similar location (near acre 274) is supported by a 1842 report of a near fall into a well. These all imply a location near the intersection of Pulteney and Flinders Streets.