Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Carl Magnus Oscar Friström (1856–1918)

by Julie K. Brown

This article was published:

Carl Magnus Oscar Friström (1856-1918), artist, was born on 16 January 1856 in the parish of Sturko, Blekinge, Sweden, son of Claus August Friström, schoolteacher and his wife Christina, née Carlson. Oscar is first described as a sailor in the household records of Torhamm in 1870-76. He probably came to Australia in a ship's crew and jumped ship in Brisbane in 1883. In 1884 he exhibited in the fine arts section of the annual Queensland National Association Exhibition. There is no evidence of any training before his arrival in Australia, and the academic studies exhibited suggest that he may have studied part time at the Brisbane Technical College, or privately.

Entering a partnership, the Elite Photo Co., in 1885 with the Brisbane photographer D. H. Hutchison, Friström became responsible for the colouring and over-painting of photographic portraits much in vogue at the time. He was also painting some of his first portraits, and beginning to gain repute as a professional artist. Using the name of his company, he exhibited landscapes and portraits, both photographic and painted, at Q.N.A. exhibitions. His youngest brother Claus Edward, first a photographer and then a painter, later in New Zealand, was also employed by the company in 1888. Oscar retained his interest in photography all his life and taught colouring and retouching. On 22 June 1885 in St Stephen's Roman Catholic Cathedral, he married Caroline Johnston, a gifted musician who taught for many years at All Hallows Convent where Friström was art master during the 1890s; the first of their two children was born in 1887, when he was naturalized.

At the Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, in 1888 Friström exhibited an oil portrait of the Aboriginal 'King Sandy' of Brisbane. He later produced a number of similar studies, especially during the 1890s, often done from photographs. He left Brisbane in 1891 apparently intending to go overseas, but did not go beyond Adelaide, where he set up for a short time as a portraitist, painting more Aboriginals. He was back in Brisbane in 1895.

As one of the few professional artists in Brisbane in the late 1880s. Friström had been involved with Isaac Jenner and Lewis Wirth in the formation of the Queensland Art Society, the earliest of its kind in Queensland. He was on the first committee in 1887 and in 1889. He exhibited with the society in the 1890s, but he and others gradually became disaffected, and withdrew from it. In June 1904 they formed the New Society of Artists. Among the leading professionals who joined him were the architect G. H. M. Addison and the sculptor James L. Watts; Edward Colclough, a civil servant and amateur painter, was secretary for twelve years. When the position of president was created in 1907 Friström became the first incumbent. Although attempts to amalgamate the two societies had begun seriously by 1910, they did not succeed until 1916. Friström played a prominent part in the negotiations and was elected to the council of the new body, the Queensland Art Society. He became president in 1918 but did not complete his term, dying of cancer on 26 June; he was buried in South Brisbane cemetery with Anglican rites.

Friström painted many subjects in several mediums but his reputation rests on his portraits. He painted some of Queensland's leading parliamentarians, professional men, Freemasons and members of prominent Brisbane families. Some of his many Aboriginal portraits are in private collections, art galleries, museums and libraries both in Australia and overseas. The Queensland Museum has a notable collection.

Select Bibliography

  • J. K. Brown and M. Maynard, Fine Art Exhibitions in Brisbane 1884-1914 (Brisb, 1980)
  • Swedish-Australasian Trade Journal, June 1931
  • Brisbane Courier, 27 June 1918
  • Royal Queensland Art Society Minute books, 1901-19 (held by the society)
  • biographical files on Friström (Queensland Art Gallery).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Julie K. Brown, 'Friström, Carl Magnus Oscar (1856–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fristrom, Carl Magnus Oscar

16 January, 1856
Sturko, Blekinge, Sweden


26 June, 1918 (aged 62)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.