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James Alfred Turner - Historic Notes
A rare insight on J.A.Turners life
A friend and contemporary of Turner was Jan Hendrik Scheltema (1861-1941) a Dutch born painter who made a name in Australia as a livestock and landscape painter. He was eleven years younger than Turner and worked around Melbourne for nearly 50 years, living from his paintings and teaching art. Scheltema, over the years corresponded with friends and family in Holland. His 724 letters, covering - 840 pages of manuscripts are now held by the RKD library in The Hague, in a collection that includes transcripts in Dutch done by Dr C.A.W Jeekel, sometimes referred to as the "Jeekel Collation". in recent years the bulk of this material has been translated from Dutch to English by Peter Reynders, with translations now lodged in the State Library of Victoria where they can be accessed on request. The letters are indexed by date. Discovered amongst this material by Peter Reynders are several references to Turner and his work that provide a rare insight into the frustrations of the “Melbourne art market”. "(1893) The art auctions of Gemmel and Tuckett ceased long ago. Recently has the painter Turner again tried one for the first time with a small collection. He sold almost everything, but at such low prices that there may not have been much profit after deduction of on-costs." "21.9.1896. JHS, Melbourne > NS, Gouda. (Father) “----Although nothing unusual has occurred during the last three weeks I just want to report that I am fine. There is no change or variety in the activities. The painter’s class is attended well. With the art auctions it remains poor. Mr Turner, one of the most popular painters, recently had a sale with little success. Mr Peele hopes to have one soon. I prefer to stay outside it as I consider that working for it is not profitable enough under the current circumstances.
The year J.A. Turner died the painter J.N.Scheltema wrote a letter to his family in Holland dated 2 June 1908, which contained the following paragraphs: "The painter Turner who was working here many years as painter of ‘bush incidents’ and which made a name for himself, has recently passed away, so that I have now hardly any competition left. I was be-friended with him, but saw little of him because he lived in the countryside. He was inexhaustible in subjects, but by separating himself from the art world and also through a poor art education in his youth did his style go backwards considerably especially in his last few years. With all the limitations in technique however, there is nobody who can take his place with the public. The other painters occupy themselves with studies and imitate European methods, in which the public has little interest. The rich treasures of Australian subjects is rather neglected because in Paris ‘subject’ is not valued any more, but only ‘technique’ is exercised. The National Gallery, the Governor-General and the ‘snobocracy’ of Melbourne, who despise all that is Australian, are the cause of this situation. Little can be earned from the wider Australian public, which Turner experienced, who suffered poverty repeatedly. Only the reputation and the existence are more durable for a popular painter than for the one who counts on Government and ‘society’ support, which usually only lasts a few years and then one must go into exile. Purchases by the museum are limited and society follows the fashion of the day too much to keep relying on them. How much however is the warm appreciation by the public versus the ungenuine giving of favours by the snobs."