Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mann, Gother Victor Fyers (1863–1948)

by Richard Haese

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Gother Victor Fyers Mann (1863-1948), artist, architect and gallery director, was born on 8 October 1863 in Sydney, younger twin son and fourth child of John Frederick Mann, English-born surveyor and explorer, and his Sydney-born wife Camilla Victoria, daughter of Sir Thomas Mitchell; she died eight days later. Educated at Sydney Grammar School, in 1882 Mann was apprenticed to the architect Thomas Rowe and attended lectures in architecture at the University of Sydney. In 1885 he met Charles Conder; they became close friends, attended classes under Julian Ashton and made painting trips together to the Hawkesbury River. In 1886 Mann was elected an associate of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales and next year he was awarded the president's gold medal for draughtsmanship and design. In 1888-91 he practised in Brisbane in partnership with E. J. F. Crawford.

Returning to Sydney, Mann practised as an architect in Bridge Street, studied art under Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton and regularly visited their camp at Sirius Cove. He was secretary of the Art Society of New South Wales in the mid-1890s and exhibited with that society in 1892, the Queensland Art Society in 1896 and the Society of Artists, Sydney, in 1898. On 3 April 1902 he married Mabel Beatrice, daughter of the noted photographer J. H. Newman; they lived at Neutral Bay.

In 1905 Mann was appointed secretary and superintendent of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales and from 1912 director and secretary. He organized an important loan exhibition of Australian art in 1918 and visited Europe in 1914 and 1926 to buy for the collection. In 1926 he acquired works by Corot, Boudin and Conder, attended the Venice Biennale, and visited Holland with Lionel Lindsay to whom he confessed that 'it was hard work to buy pictures for laymen … with a miserable few hundreds'. Fundamentally conservative in his tastes and a champion of Australian Impressionism, he declared his opposition to modernism on his return in 1926. He was a member from 1912 and chairman in 1918-48 of the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board, established to advise the Historic Memorials Committee; from 1914, at Mann's behest, it began to acquire the nucleus of a national collection. Although as an administrator he exerted considerable influence, he chose to remain in the background of the art establishment. In 1928 he retired and was awarded the Society of Artists' medal; next year he was appointed C.B.E.

As a painter Mann was almost entirely unknown until he held his first and only one-man show at the Macquarie Galleries in May 1930. This retrospective exhibition included many scenes of Sydney Harbour and records of his visits abroad; William Moore noted the freedom and breadth of the work. The few examples of his work in public collections reveal that Mann's painting style was as modest and as undemonstrative as his character. In 1932-36 he was director of Sydney's Macleod Gallery attached to the Bulletin, and in 1938 he published a local history, The Municipality of North Sydney. He belonged to the Australasian Pioneers' Club.

Survived by his wife and daughter, Mann died on 12 November 1948 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites. His portrait by W. B. McInnes is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Mollison and L. Murray (eds), The Australian National Gallery (Canb, 1982)
  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Bulletin, July 1968
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20, 29 Oct 1926, 3 June 1929
  • Mann papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Lindsay family papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Richard Haese, 'Mann, Gother Victor Fyers (1863–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mann-gother-victor-fyers-7474/text13025, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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