Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Clark (1814–1883)

by Ann E. Galbally

This article was published:

Thomas Clark (1814?-1883), artist, was born in London, son of Thomas Clark, artist, and his wife Susan, née Ashley. He was said to have been director of the Nottingham School of Arts before he was appointed anatomical draftsman at King's College, London, in 1843. His work seems to have conformed well to academic taste, for he won awards from the Royal Society of Arts: the gold medal for landscape painting and the first silver medal for engraving. In February 1846 he was appointed headmaster of the government School of Design, Birmingham. One of his pupils was (Sir) Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). In December, at his own request, Clark was also appointed drawing-master at the King Edward's School of Design at a salary of £150. He resigned from King Edward's in March 1851 and soon afterwards left Birmingham, possibly to go to Russia to perform some special engraving for the Czar.

Clark arrived in Victoria with his family probably in 1852; according to the Examiner and Melbourne Weekly News, 18 August 1860, he had been well known 'amongst us for several years past' and many of his paintings were in squatters' homesteads. Certainly he had several pictures in the exhibition of the Society of Fine Arts in February 1857. His status established, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Sir Henry Barkly, governor of Victoria in 1856-63, which was presented to the government in 1868 and is now in the National Gallery of Victoria. In 1869-70 he was briefly instructor in figure drawing at the Carlton School of Design. In 1870 Clark was appointed drawing-master in the newly-created School of Design connected with the National Gallery. It opened with thirty-five pupils, in contrast to six in the Painting School under Eugen von Guerard, and flourished under Clark's guidance. In September 1874 in his quarterly report to the trustees he hoped that if the classes became any larger he would not be considered unreasonable if he applied for an assistant. In line with advanced contemporary English thought his 1875 report drew attention to the important influence that arts of design had upon trade and manufacture. His methods of encouraging his pupils were very much the ways of his own studentship; he asked for annual competitions and prizes to be awarded in the form of silver palettes. Among students in 1875 who owed much to him were Tom Roberts and Fred McCubbin.

Clark was a member of the council when the Victorian Academy of Art was founded in 1870. He did not exhibit with them, for his talent seems to have been stronger in the direction of draftsmanship and engraving, yet he was interested and still connected with the academy in 1872 as a member but no longer on the council, probably because of ill health. In July 1875 he applied for a short leave. He had deteriorated to such an extent that by 1876 the trustees asked him to resign because a permanent infirmity prevented the efficient performance of his duties. Soon afterwards a son sought without success some consideration of his father's straitened circumstances. Aged 68 Clark died on 21 April 1883 at South Yarra. By his wife Jane, daughter of the journalist and Egyptologist Edward Clarkson, he had two sons and four daughters. One of the sons, Alfred Thomas, represented Williamstown in the Victorian parliament.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. Langford, Modern Birmingham and its Institutions, vols 1-2 (Birmingham, nd)
  • Victorian Academy of Arts, The First and Second Exhibitions (Melb, 1870, 1872)
  • 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), 1892-96
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 May 1883, 25 Apr 1888
  • National Gallery of Victoria, letters, box 7, and drawing-master applications 1868-70 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Ann E. Galbally, 'Clark, Thomas (1814–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 May 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]


London, Middlesex, England


21 April, 1883 (aged ~ 69)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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