# 44063


Signed studio portrait of Alfred Tischbauer, Sydney and Melbourne artist, scene painter and theatre designer. Melbourne, 1896.

  • Sold

Albumen print photograph, cabinet card format, 165 x 105 mm (mount); verso of the gilt-edged mount with gilt-lettered imprint of ‘Charlemont & Co., Vice Regal Photographers. 114 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, and at The Royal Arcade, Sydney’, and a presentation inscription in ink by the sitter: ‘To my friend Thom. Sinclair / Alf Tischbauer, July 17th 1896’; the print is very lightly foxed and has some mottling in the negative; the mount is in excellent condition.

Artist Alfred Tischbauer was a notable figure in the art and theatre world of Sydney in the 1880s and Melbourne in the 1890s. We have not been able to trace any photographic portraits of him in Australian institutional collections.

Provenance: from a group of theatre-related photographs originally collected by the Sydney actor, stage manager and playwright Alfred Dampier – for whom Tischbauer worked for a number of years as a set designer under the name ‘Alta’.

From the DAAO:

‘Alfred Tischbauer … painter, scene painter, designer and art teacher, was born in Paris, France, in 1853, to Mathias Alexandre Tischbauer (a Moravian emigré) and Marie Julie née Favaud. He had trained as a scene painter and designer and worked at the Paris Opera before becoming involved in the Paris Communes of 1871, resulting in him being transported to New Caledonia. From there he came to Sydney, as did his friend Lucien Henry who modelled his bust in Sydney. Tischbauer was living at 139 Castlereagh Street in 1880 when he showed ‘Sketches in Water-colours for Churches and Apartments. Panels for Apartments’ at the Melbourne International Exhibition. He found a job teaching classes in perspective at the Sydney Technical College, Ultimo, where Lucien Henry taught modelling (Moore).

In 1883 he showed an oil painting (now in the State Library of New South Wales collection) in the third annual NSW Art Society exhibition:

A. Tischbauer has only sent one picture, No. 218, but that is so good that it is worth half a dozen less carefully painted. It is a view of George St., from the north side of Wynyard St., and looking south. The architectural work is finished to the utmost degree, the perspective is simply perfect; not a detail, as regards signs etc., has been omitted and the atmospheric effect is good. Cabs and other vehicles throng the streets, while on the footpaths there is a bustling crowd of pedestrians, several portraits being introduced, among them those of Mr Combes and Mr J.P. Russel [sic]. ( Sydney Morning Herald , 31 March 1883, 5)

John P. Russell exhibited a Portrait of A. Tischbauer, Esq. in the same exhibition.

The fourth annual exhibition of the Society followed later that year and Tischbauer showed more street scenes. The SMH (5 October 1883, 8) noted that he ‘has made a speciality of street scenes and the representation of long vistas of lofty buildings a la Canaletto’, adding that his views in George Street and Macquarie Street were ‘unrivalled in their perspective and the harmony of their colouring’. Several are known to survive.

Two other extant paintings from Tischbauer’s years in Sydney depict the Art Gallery of NSW when still in its original home, the fine arts building designed by W.W. Wardell erected at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens for the 1879-80 Sydney International Exhibition. It survived the fire which destroyed the adjacent Garden Palace in 1882, but the structure was declared unsound in 1885 and a new building subsequently begun (part extant within the present gallery). Tischbauer’s undated interior view of the condemned gallery, offered for sale by Hordern House in April 1998 for $24,000, shows the architectural features of Wardell’s building in detail and identifies many of the gallery’s original holdings. Many of the paintings and sculptures on view, mostly British or European, have since been de-accessioned; W. C. Piguenit’s An Australian mangrove, ebb tide, Alphonse de Neuville’s The Defence of Rorke’s Drift; both seen on the left; Keely Halswell’s Non Angli sed Angeli ; seen on the right hand side; and Jean-François Portael’s Esther; at the far end; are among the few that remain regularly on view. The two big bronzes in the middle of the room are still on view in the gallery, but the majority of the oil landscapes and marble heads are rarely seen and many appear to have gone.

At the seventh annual Art Society exhibition in 1886, the Sydney Morning Herald (20 April 1886, 4) noted:

Mr Alfred Tischbauer has two paintings of the National Art Gallery; the one of the central room (74) in oils and the other of the loan room (204) in watercolours. The latter is decidedly the better, but both are of interest. In the former, portraits are given of the trustees of the gallery, Sir Patrick Jennings and Mr. Montefiore being easily recogizable but the figures are not first-class.

In the late 1880s Tischbauer moved to Melbourne where he worked, under the stage name ‘Alta’, as a theatre designer for Alfred Dampier.

‘Alta’ was the scenic artist at the Alexandra Theatre, Melbourne in the late 1880s-90s. He was the chief scene-painter of the ‘elaborately realistic’ scenery in Marvellous Melbourne – a great success, which had opened on 19 January 1889 and ran for over five weeks. The Argus of 21 January described it as belonging to ‘the order of sensational and spectacular drama which has recently come into fashion, and in which the scenic artist and stage carpenter play as important part as the leading actor’ (quoted Williams 151). Although the critical eye of the Australasian of 26 January 1889 noted that several of the sets had been recycled from earlier dramas (including one, surprisingly, from His Natural Life), all the reviews commended the beautifully executed pictures of the city. The mechanical change from Chinese opium den to Falls Bridge by moonlight was especially mentioned.

Even the Bulletin was unreserved in its praise:

But the backbone of this show is scenery of a beautiful and entirely local character. Nothing approaching it had previously been set up on the big Alexandra stage, and three pictures created such prolonged howlings that certain wild-looking artists were required to come forward and smile at their admirers.

‘The wild-looking artists’ became the backbone not only of this production, but also of what became known, in parody of the land boom, as the “Dampier boom” at the Alexandra’ (Williams 153-56). In 1890 Dampier, with Garnet Walch, followed Marvellous Melbourne with Robbery Under Arms. Like His Natural Life (the previous success), it became a permanent part of the Dampier Company’s repertoire (photographs of scenes ill. Williams 162, 163). It also had a London season at the Princess’s Theatre in 1894. Another Boldrewood book dramatised by Dampier and Walch, The Miner’s Right, opened on 14 February 1891. Table Talk of 20 February 1890 (quoted Williams, 167) ‘was greatly enamoured of Mr Alta’s sets, “realistic in the highest degree”’:

The diggings in the second act are remarkably true to nature, the cloth showing the forest of straight gum trees with the ranges in the distance, being one of the best Australian landscapes that has ever been painted for the stage. The Cascade scene is good, but the diggings scene has the real colour of the country.

In late 1891 Tischbauer’s theatrical design career faltered after he was named in the suicide note of Selina Palmer; a young woman, employed by Alfred Dampier, whom Tischbauer had befriended; and had to endure public scrutiny of the nature of their friendship during the coronial inquest. Tischbauer continued his work for Dampier after the tragedy, until the collapse of Dampier’s business in 1893 caused a rift between the two men.

Sometime after 1893 – the date on his last known painting of a Sydney subject, a watercolour of Fort Macquarie & Man of War Steps; signed ‘Alf. Tischbauer’ and dated ’13th August ’93’ (Bussell); – he started teaching art at Sale in Gippsland. In January 1897 he married Harriet Watson at Footscray in Melbourne.

At the start of the twentieth century Tischbauer left for New York where, according to William Moore, he became a successful scenic artist and theatrical designer.

Tischbauer and his wife later moved to California, where he worked for the American Film Company in Santa Barbara. Alfred Louis Tischbauer died in Los Angeles in February 1922 and was buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills. Harriet Tischbauer returned to Australia later in 1922.’