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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Montefiore, Eliezer Levi (1820–1894)

by G. F. J. Bergman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Eliezer Levi Montefiore (1820-1894), businessman, etcher and gallery director, was born in the West Indies, son of Isaac Levi, merchant of Barbados and Brussels, and his wife Hanna, a cousin of the philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore. Like his brother Jacob, Eliezer adopted the name of Levi Montefiore. Educated in England, he migrated in 1843 to Adelaide where he became a commission and shipping agent. On 3 May 1848 in Adelaide he married his cousin Esther Hannah Barrow Montefiore.

In 1853 Montefiore went to Melbourne as manager of the Victorian branch of J. B. Montefiore Graham & Co. but resigned and became secretary of the Australasian Insurance Co. Though appointed a justice of the peace he was mainly interested in literature and the arts. In 1861 he was a member of the committee to arrange a celebration for the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. In 1870 he helped to found the Victorian Academy of Art and on its behalf presented the prizes at the International Colonial Exhibition in Sydney. In February he became a trustee of the Melbourne Public Library, Museums and National Gallery but resigned early in 1871 and settled in Sydney.

Montefiore managed the Pacific Fire and Marine Insurance Co. in 1871-91, but with T. S. Mort and other friends he formed the New South Wales Academy of Art. In 1874 he became one of the original trustees for administering the funds voted by parliament towards forming the National Art Gallery of New South Wales; it was opened on 22 September 1880. A talented black and white artist, Montefiore illustrated the catalogues of the gallery with his etchings of the principal pictures in 1883-93. Elected a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1875, he contributed to its journal such essays as 'Etchings and Etchers' (1876) and 'Art Criticism' (1879). His 'Agnosticism among the poets' was published in the Sydney Quarterly Magazine, 1890. In 1889-91 he was president of the Board of Trustees and served as director of the gallery in 1892-94. In August he went to Melbourne and Adelaide to select pictures for exchange with the Sydney gallery. Soon afterwards he died at Woollahra on 22 October, aged 74, lamented by many friends, not only as a leading patron of the arts but also for his personality. Predeceased by his wife on 10 July 1882, he was survived by six daughters.

A sculpture in marble by Theodora Cowan was placed in the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1898.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Munz, Jews in South Australia, 1836-1936 (Adel, 1936)
  • L. M. Goldman, The Jews in Victoria in the Nineteenth Century (Melb, 1954)
  • Cosmos Magazine, 1894
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Oct 1894
  • Bridge (Sydney), Aug 1972.

Citation details

G. F. J. Bergman, 'Montefiore, Eliezer Levi (1820–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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