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Young, John Henry (1880–1946)

by Heather Johnson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

John Henry Young (1880-1946), gallery director, art dealer and collector, was born on 27 October 1880 at Petersham, Sydney, second child of English-born parents Enoch William Young, grocer, and his second wife Ann, née Gregson; John had three half-brothers. After leaving the local public school, he read widely, influenced by his lifelong friends Leslie Holdsworth and (Sir) Carleton Kemp Allen. Young worked for some years in his father's grocery shop then as a commercial traveller for Poole & Holmes, coffee and spice merchants. On 4 September 1909 he married Eva Clarice Miller at the Congregational Church, Petersham, with which he was closely associated.

An amateur collector of antiques, paintings and prints, Young opened a picture-framing and restoring business in Bond Street, Sydney, in 1916. Artists employed by (S. Ure) Smith & Julius, including Roland Wakelin, Percy Leason and Lloyd Rees, gathered at the shop at lunchtime. Young provided space for Roy de Maistre and Wakelin to experiment on their colour and music theories, and framed their works. He sold the business before visiting Europe in 1922-23, to educate himself and his family. On this tour (and during another in 1929-30) Young located neglected Australiana and prints in antique shops, for his own collection and later for sale. He also forged connexions with English galleries, dealers and artists.

Back in Sydney in 1923, Young re-established his business, this time in Phillip Street. With Basil Burdett, he opened the Macquarie Galleries at 19 Bligh Street in 1925; John Aeneas McDonnell was another partner (1929-36). The galleries consisted of three exhibition rooms elegantly appointed with antique furniture. The opening exhibition (of Wakelin's work) established an eclectic and busy programme of two-weekly shows of both conventional and modernist artists who benefited from the Macquarie Galleries' exhibitions of contemporary European art (mostly English prints).

In the 1930s Young also operated as an art dealer at 9 Bligh Street, managed exhibitions for such associations as the Society of Artists and the Contemporary Group, gave talks on art for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (1936-37) and wrote occasional pieces for Art in Australia (sometimes as 'J. Matthew Gregson') and the Sydney Morning Herald. He retired from the Macquarie Galleries in 1938 and moved his business as a restorer, valuer, art adviser and dealer to 3 Castlereagh Street. That year he was awarded the Society of Artists medal. A quiet man of medium height and slight build, Young had very white skin, a thick thatch of neatly brushed, long, dark hair, a slight stoop and broad brow, and wore glasses. Rees described him as a mystic, philosopher and skilled debater, and attributed his success as a gallery director to a combination of knowledge and intuition and his ability as a salesman. His main contribution to Australian art was his unstinting support, both financial and moral, for a wide range of artists, especially women.

Young was appointed acting-director of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales in June 1944. He was disillusioned and depressed by the court case later that year over the award of the Archibald prize to (Sir) William Dobell for his controversial portrait of Joshua Smith. Believing that the portrait was a caricature and that his testimony in favour of the plaintiffs would cause a conflict of interest with the gallery's trustees, he resigned in September. Young's health deteriorated, aggravating respiratory complaints from which he suffered all his life. He died of heart failure on 7 September 1946 at Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated. His wife and their three daughters survived him. A bronze (1941) bust of Young by Daphne Mayo is held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Portraits in oils by Leason, Robert Campbell, Douglas Dundas and Wakelin are held in private collections.

Select Bibliography

  • J. R. Lawson [auctioneers], Catalogue of Prints and Pictures. The Private Collection of Mr John Young (Syd, 1922?)
  • J. R. Lawson [auctioneers], An Important Collection of Pictures Drawn from the Collections of Mr F. W. Allen and Mr John Young (Syd, 1933)
  • J. R. Lawson [auctioneers], Catalogue of the John Young Collection (Syd, 1940)
  • J. Campbell, Early Sydney Moderns (Syd, 1988)
  • H. Johnson, The Sydney Art Patronage System 1890-1940 (Syd, 1997)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June, 16, 25 Oct, 9 Nov 1944
  • C. Thomas, Family Tree and History, (manuscript, Art Gallery of New South Wales Archives)
  • John Young file (Art Gallery of New South Wales Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Heather Johnson, 'Young, John Henry (1880–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/young-john-henry-12089/text21691, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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