In 1881 John Sands ran a competition to find illustrations of Australian Christmas scenes. Here is a long description of the competition and some results.
By the enterprise and liberality of Mr. John Sands, publisher, of George-street, a new industry has been started in Sydney, and art throughout the colonies has received a great impetus. Anyone who visits the Art Gallery in the Inner Domain, during the week, will acknowledge the justness of our remark, for there he will see 662 designs for Christmas cards, sent from all parts of the colonies, in response to Mr. Sands’ offer of fifty guineas in premiums for the best designs, of a distinctively Australian character, to be reproduced by him in chromo-lithography, at his new factory. The prize money, was allotted thus -1st premium £15, 2nd £10, 3rd £7 10s., 4th £5, 5th £2 10s., 3 at £2. and 6 at. £1, on the following conditions :- All designs to be executed in colours, and not to exceed, including border, 8 inches x 6 inches. All designs submitted to become the property of Mr. Sands, by whom the non-successful ones will be exhibited for sale, and a moiety of the proceeds thereof returned to the designer; the judges to be Mr. E. Combes, C.M.G., M.L.A., Mr. E. L. Montefiore, and Mr. E. Du Faur.”
From one of Mr. Sands’ circulars we extract the following very sensible remarks:-“Hitherto we have been compelled to import these cards from England, America, and the Continent, where they are produced in immense numbers; but being published for climates of temperature and season different to our own, they are never specially appropriate here. In order that the competitors should leave the beaten track, I made it a condition that Australian subjects only should be used with the result that instead of sending home cards with ice, holly, &c., our friends will have the pleasure of receiving them enhanced by seeing on our cards subjects totally new to them, and at the same time be able to notice the advance Australia is making in the fine arts. It is a somewhat hazardous experiment I am trying in entering the lists against old-established and world-known houses having the experience of years and the advantages of immense establishments behind them, but I felt that there was sufficient talent in the colonies to warrant me in obtaining the designs.”
And the result has, so far, justified the expenditure, for of the 662 designs exhibited, while many are inartisitic and evidently the work of tyros, there are many which certainly rival the best imported work. The Minister for Education placed the Art Gallery at Mr. Sands’ disposal, and in what were the French and Belgian Courts during the International Exhibition, the designs are now arranged. On Saturday there was a Press view, and the judging was done.
The first prize fell to Mrs. F. W. Stoddard Tasman House, Sydney, and was well earned. On a smooth lake floats a gondola crowded with fairies and, sprites in diaphonous robes, and the elves are so grouped that by means of their bright forms, the legend, ” A Merry Christmas,” is spelt out. Overhead float two aerial shapes whose star-pointed wands direct one’s gaze to the glory of the southern heavens- the Cross. Of course the scene is a night one, and the dusky blue tones of the picture are beautiful. Mrs. Stoddard’s design is numbered 491.
The second prize is taken by Miss Emma E. Mather, Hobart, Tasmania. Her picture, numbered 183, represents a spray of flowers.
The other prizes are allotted in the order in which we refer to the pictures. No. 170, 3rd prize, Mrs Fred C. Rowan, Macedon, Victoria, a pair of blue wrens and a butterfly. No. 651, 4th prize, Mrs. Edward Forde, Darlinghurst. The design shows a cluster of puce and amber berries, overhanging a little pen and ink vignette of the Prince Consort’s statue, Hyde Park.
No. 502, 5th prize, Charles Turner, St. Kilda, Victoria ; a pair of cockatoos, behind whose sulphur crests a range of distant hills appears. No. 330, E. M. B. Gilbert, Hawthorne, Victoria, a somewhat hardly painted group of shells and rocks.
No. 282, Miss H. Hambridge, Kensington, South Australia, shows Devil’s Peak, on the Flinder’s Range, and is one of the most exquisite things in the collection. The colouring is harmonious, the distance good, and the figures animated but the scene is not distinctively Australian, as it would be were an aboriginal for instance, introduced in it. No. 589, Robert William Bugg, Collins-street, Melbourne, “Port Lonsdale, Port Phillip.” No. 424, Miss Robinson, Five Dock, ” Crested Cockatoo.”
No. 409, by Miss Devine, Tasman House, Sydney, shows a female figure surrounded by native birds and ferns, and is an extremely elegant design. The face of the girl is beautifully painted, and the birds are well grouped; but the arms of the figure are some-what out of drawing, and the swan might well have been the Australian bird. We think, though, that the work, deserved a higher place in the prize-list than it attained. No. 370, Isabel de Mole, Kew, Victoria, ” Ferns,, flowers, and berries.” No. 15, by C. H. Hunt, Bond street, Sydney, is a thoroughly Australian picture, well designed, drawn, and coloured. It shows a fairy-like little girl, who has evidently run up from a picnic party in the background, proffering a piece of Christmas pudding to a tired swagsman, who has just sat down under a shady tree to drink a pannikin of tea. No. 95. Mrs., Chas. Oakley, St. Kilda, “Wild flowers and tablet.”‘ No. 160, Mrs. Rowan, Macedon, Victoria. ” White Satin Butterflies.”
The exhibition was visited on Saturday by Lady Augustus Loftus; and to-day, when a private view will take place, her ladyship, and several members of the Ministry, will probably be present. To-morrow, and subsequently until further notice, the exhibition will be open to the public. The arrangement of the competition has been carried out with taste and judgment by Mr. Curtis, who superintends the chromo-lithographic branch of Mr. J Sands’ business.
For printing those designs Mr. Sands has imported several large chromo-litho machines, duplicates of those used by such houses as those of Delà Rue, Marcus Ward, Goodall, and Prang, and has obtained the services of a number of clever lithographic draughtsmen and printers. He is now preparing for publication a series of views of Sydney harbour and its neighbourhood, printed in facsimile of water-colour sketches specially drawn by Mr. J. C. Hoyte ; and these views will be on exhibition to-day. In addition to the 59 guineas awarded in premiums for the designs, he intends to offer 25 guineas in premiums for verses and. sonnets appropriate to them; and particulars of this competition will be advertised at an early date.
Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 23 May 1881, page 5