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Oswald Rose Campbell (1820–1887)

by Ann E. Galbally

This article was published:

Oswald Rose Campbell (1820-1887), artist, was born in Jersey, Channel Islands, son of Captain Rose Campbell and his wife Elizabeth, née Sutherland. At 19 he was admitted as a student of the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh. In 1842 he went to London and entered the Royal Academy School on a studentship which lasted for ten years. In London he became a member of the National Institution of Artists, and claimed to have 'mixed with the first artists of the time'. In 1846 he studied for four months at the Liverpool Academy and then visited Dublin, where he was admitted to the life-school of the Royal Hibernian Academy. He exhibited twice with the Royal Academy, London: in 1847 'Christ and the two disciples journeying to Emmaus', and in 1848 an oil entitled 'The Prisoner'.

Campbell arrived in the Cossipore at Melbourne in October 1852. In 1854 he painted a view of 'Hobson's Bay from Flagstaff' (now in the Dixson Gallery, Sydney). He moved to Sydney where early in 1855 he did a portrait head of Mary Reibey. Three of his other works in New South Wales are extant: a portrait of John Portus, Morpeth, 1860 (now in the Newcastle City Art Gallery); 'Sydney Cove from Kirribilli', 1861; and a pencil sketch of gums at Richmond, 1861. He returned to Melbourne in 1864 and settled first at East Melbourne and then at Woodend House, Punt Road, Windsor. His first application for the post of drawing-master at the School of Design in the Melbourne National Gallery was unsuccessful. In an Exhibition of Ornamental and Decorative Art, held at the Melbourne Public Library from March to June 1869, he was represented by an oil painting, 'Absent Thoughts'. In 1870 he became the first president of the newly-founded Victorian Academy of Arts and at its first exhibition showed several works, oils of a moral-biblical nature, a model for a seal of the public library, and 'Man with the Muck-rake', illustrating Bunyan, which appeared as an engraving in the Illustrated Australian News, 2 January 1871. Still president in 1872, at the second exhibition he contributed two views and an oil illustrating a scene from literature: 'The arrest of Hastings in the Tower of London', from Richard III. After some disagreement with the council of the academy he retired as president but in December 1875 accepted a life membership and continued as an exhibitor until 1882. He also won an award for his pictures at the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1875.

On Thomas Clark's retirement, Campbell applied again for appointment as drawing-master at the School of Design, claiming that for the past twelve years he had been drawing on wood, chiefly figures for the illustrated papers. He was appointed on 1 December 1876 at a salary of £250. In his régime of nine years he appears to have been rather inflexible and dictatorial, following strict academic lines. In 1879-80 he was the central figure in a controversy over a life-class on Saturday afternoons organized by some of his students; the ring leaders were Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Richardson. Because of Campbell's opposition several students were threatened with dismissal, but they appealed to the trustees and were allowed to stay. Called to explain his actions, Campbell wrote to the trustees on 20 June 1879 defending his teaching and asserting that his pupils were not yet ready for anything beyond drawing, anatomy, perspective and modelling, and that they abused the freedom granted to them. He was supported by the majority of his pupils, and their letters in praise of his teaching-methods seem to have reinstated him with the trustees, but the rebels won the right to have a life-class at which Campbell was expected to teach.

In 1882 Campbell was embroiled in another controversy at the gallery over fees, which students had to pay to him directly for his tutoring, and to the painting-master, George Folingsby, for his classes, instead of a general fee covering all tuition. By this time Campbell's health was beginning to fail; in January 1886 the trustees notified him that he was to be replaced. His successor was Frederick McCubbin. Campbell died at Woodend House, Punt Road, on 18 March 1887, aged 67 and was buried in the St Kilda cemetery. In England he had married Eleanor, née Scott. Of their nine children a son, Malcolm Alexander (1851-1889), became an artist, exhibited in the Victorian Academy in 1872-87 and served on its council in 1881-84.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts, vol 1 (Lond, 1905)
  • E. La T. Armstrong, The Book of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria: 1856-1906 (Melb, 1906)
  • Public Library, Museums & National Gallery of Victoria, Trustees Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1880-85
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Letters, box 9, and drawing-master applications 1868-70 (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • Victorian Artists' Society, papers and letters (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ann E. Galbally, 'Campbell, Oswald Rose (1820–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Jersey, Channel Islands


18 March, 1887 (aged ~ 67)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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