The Arundel Society Collection of Prints

The Arundel Society Collection of chromolithographs of masterpieces of European art was created by the Arundel Society between the years 1848 and 1897. In all, a total of one hundred and ninety-nine works, including engravings, lithographs and carvings were distributed. At the present time, the St. Martin's collection consists of thirty-nine chromolithographs of these great paintings.

The Arundel Society was founded in 1848 to promote the knowledge of art. It was named after Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel who, in the reigns of James I and Charles I, was called “The father of vertu in England”.

The society published engravings, facsimiles of ivory carvings, chromolithographs from carefully coloured copies of selected pictures and literary monographs on special works and the persons connected with them.

ST MARTIN'S COLLECTION

A century ago, the best-known Anglican priest in Melbourne was Canon Ernest Selwyn Hughes, Vicar of St Peter's Eastern Hill between 1900 and 1926. Canon Hughes was also an art lover who, while visiting Europe in 1913, bought a large collection of 19th century chromolithographic prints produced by the Arundel Society. His brother, Dr Wilfred Kent Hughes, a parishioner of St Martin 's, gave fifteen Arundel prints to the church in 1924. More were subsequently donated.

In the early years, the prints were hung in the church, though at some stage — during the war, it is believed — they were taken down and placed in the bell tower, in less than ideal conditions. One of them was even used to block up a lavatory window in the vicarage. This was probably typical of what was happening to Arundel prints around the world at the time. Many were either discarded or shoved away in attics, regarded as Victorian clutter.

A post-war vicar, Father Angus Palmer, discovered the prints being damaged by silverfish in the bell tower. In 1957 he secured the support of Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes (a minister in the 1951 Cabinet of Sir Robert Menzies and son of Dr Wilfred Kent Hughes) who paid for the restoration of the expanded, but much deteriorated collection of 25 prints.

In the 1970s, further prints were located by Father Nigel Wright, in both Western Australia and the Middle East; these were purchased and added to the collection. In 1973 there was an exhibition, opened by Sir Wilfrid's widow. In the1990s, then Vicar Reverend David Head gave conducted tours to view our Arundel collection, describing each picture and its origins. In 1998 he revised an earlier catalogue.

By 2005, with all the prints hanging in the church in a hotch-potch of frames, the collection was looking decidedly tatty. We approached the art historian, Dr Colin Holden, to view the collection and comment on its significance and he told us that its conservation “is highly desirable because of the significance, indeed unique nature of the collection”. Candida Baskcomb, a well-regarded paper restorer, was commissioned to carry out the painstaking labour of restoring the prints. The restoration of 34 prints was completed in May 2008.

Not all the Arundel prints are framed, because good conservation practice recommends their being stored unframed. They will be displayed on rotation in five gallery-type frames, the remainder being stored in an appropriate cabinet.

Disrespected by many in the mid-20th century, the Arundels are now highly prized. W. Noel Johnson, secretary of the Arundel Society, wrote of them in 1907:
“Art is the handmaid of religion — the more subtle and supreme the truth or idea to be conveyed, the greater becomes the difficulty of expressing it in words which shall carry conviction; and the greater, also, becomes the hunger for some form of viable expression which shall show it to be a reality and not merely a product of the imagination. It is this human longing which has given figurative art such an important place in religion.” - Ewen W. J. Tyler AM, Curator

Click here to listen to the recording of an interview about the St Martin's Arundel print collection, broadcast on 'The Ark', ABC Radio National, Sunday 7 September 2008. (Courtesy of 'The Ark', ABC Radio National. Copyright Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2008. Used by permission.)

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Arundel Prints Catalogue

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