Forming the historical core of our art collection, this group of 31 watercolours were painted 100 years ago in 1910 to decorate the walls of the then new Children’s Wing of the Homeopathic Hospital.
Founded in 1877, the Homeopathic Hospital was one of Melbourne’s earliest hospitals and was located in St Kilda Road. It was dependant on the generous gifts of benefactors to cover its daily operating costs and refurbishments. The new Children’s Wing was no exception and the funds for this project had been made available through the gift of an anonymous donor. The donor specifically requested frames were fixed to the walls of the children’s wards for the purpose of displaying illustrations and drawings of children’s stories and nursery rhymes. Referred to as the “Cheer Up Children Paintings,” this was the first recorded attempt to decorate a Children’s Ward in such a manner.
The four artists who were commissioned to produce the works were Janet Edith Alsop, Janet Cumbrae Stewart, Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Jessie Traill. All four artists were Melbourne based and in their early 20’s at the time, and it seems, donated these paintings without charge. This was a considerable undertaking and these paintings would have to be be one of the most memorable and lasting philanthropic efforts by Melbourne artists.
Janet Edith Alsop, Janet Cumbrae Stewart, Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Jessie Traill alll went on lead notable and distinguished careers in the art world – which was not altogether common for women artists in early twentieth century Australia. Now all four artists have work in the major public collections of Australia such as the National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Australia. Consequently, this selection of watercolours are also significant and rare examples from a group of early twentieth century female artists who all achieved success in their own artistic careers.
These watercolours went on to displayed for a period in the childrens wards when the Homeopathic Hospital became Prince Henry’s. Today they are on roatational display due to the fragility of the condition. These works certainly remain to be a visual delight and are important works, not only as records of institutional history and community art but they also capture the artistic heritage of Australian childhood.