Twycross the big spender

by Charlotte Smith
Publish date
30 November 2010
Comments (2)

This guest post is by Charlotte Smith, Senior Curator, Public & Institutional Life, who is in Paris researching the John Twycross 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition Building Collection for an upcoming book. This collection comprises 175 exquisite decorative arts objects purchased by wealthy wool merchant John Twycross at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.

Detail from the plan of the French Court Detail from the plan of the French Court at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.
Image: C. Smith
Source: Museum Victoria

I thought my finds last Friday at the Archives Nationales de Paris were pretty impressive – floor plans of the French courts, showing where each exhibitor was located, with a key – but today things got even better. I uncovered a document titled Section des Beaux-Arts. Oeuvres vendues a Melbourne [translation: Fine Art Section. Artworks sold in Melbourne]. The document is a list of 47 artworks. It describes the artist, title of work, purchaser and purchase price. What is really exciting for my research is John Twycross is mentioned eight times!

A record of purchases from the French Court. A record of purchases from the French Court. Twycross is listed third from the top.
Image: C. Smith
Source: Museum Victoria

He spent £806, the equivalent to a little over $63,000 today. While we don't have these paintings in the Twycross Collection, knowing more of what John purchased at the exhibition is really exciting, and adds to our understanding of the scope of the collection he amassed at the 1880 Exhibition.

Accompanying documents describe how artworks could be purchased from the French Court; one had to go to the French Consulate office on Collins Street between 10 and 4 on weekdays, where a clerk was always 'ready to give the prices asked for such paintings by the artists'.

Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower in Paris was built for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. This was one in a series of World's Fairs that included the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. The tradition of World's Fairs took off after the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.
Image: C. Smith
Source: Museum Victoria


The Twycross Collection

The 1880 and 1888 International Exhibitions

Royal Exhibition Builidng: Site of two World Fairs

Comments (2)

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Will Twycross 23 December, 2010 00:27
Charlotte, I am worried that the heading for this might catch on ..... ?? It would be great if you can find reproductions of these images, or perhaps the originals may turn up in Melbourne??
Guido Smoglian 1 May, 2014 00:04
Hello I Have just purchased a pocelain plaque after Menzel with a similar image to one of the plates in the twycross collection. I will contact the museum to show them.
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.