Keeping it in the family

J. W. R. Linton, Perth from South Perth, c.1900

J. W. R. Linton, Perth from South Perth, c.1900

In 1905 the Sunday Times detected the whiff of gross mismanagement at Perth Museum.

There was, however, a little bit of self-interest in its accusation. The founder of the Sunday Times, Frederick Vosper, spent his spare time collecting minerals (and denouncing all non-white races, but that’s another story).

After Vosper’s death, his collection had been donated to the Museum. Which consequently stored it in a broom cupboard.

So when a Sunday Times journalist visited and noticed the minerals weren’t on display it was open season on the Museum’s management committee.

In those days the Museum and Art Gallery were one and the same place. And it was on the art collection that the newspaper turned its fire.

It was alleged that the majority of the collection was purchased from England not because of its quality, but because of family connections between artists and the Museum’s Board.

As a consequence, public money was being wasted on inferior paintings, just to ‘keep it in the family’.

But particular scorn was reserved for the Linton family. Sir James Dromgole Linton was a British artist who advised the Museum on its English purchases.

His son, James Linton, taught art in Perth. And simply because he was the offspring of a very minor English artist, the Museum went out of its way to buy everything James did.

And when they needed a backdrop for the stuffed birds, guess who was engaged to undertake it?

One of Linton’s canvases, purporting to be a representation of Fremantle Harbour, was a particularly bad example of his talentless watercolour daubs.

The Sunday Times described it as something you might paint “after a week on raw lobster.”

Nonetheless, his paintings took pride of place in every room, overshadowing art by painters who could actually paint.

In addition, James Linton’s name appeared all over the Museum. In all the guides, handbooks and reports, and on the financial statements.

The whole place, it was said, felt like Linton’s personal gallery, rather than a building owned by the people of Western Australia.

Of course, we at Dodgy Perth take no stand on the quality of Linton’s art. Except to note that the Sunday Times had it exactly right.

The Museum continued to collect Linton, and the work of offspring of Linton, including some teaspoons. And the work of anyone who took one of Linton’s courses, such as Herbert ‘Kitch’ Currie.

And, most likely, if you look hard enough, the work of Linton’s cat is on display somewhere in the Art Gallery. Probably.