Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Charles Nuttall (1872–1934)

by Sheridan Palmer

This article was published:

James Charles Nuttall (1872-1934), artist and journalist, was born on 6 September 1872, at Fitzroy, Melbourne, eldest child and only son of English-born parents James Charles Nuttall, house-painter and decorator, and his wife Caroline, née Dean. Charles was encouraged by his parents to pursue a career in art and, probably after a period with the family firm, enrolled at the National Gallery school of design in 1895.

Under the drawing master Frederick McCubbin, Nuttall's draughtsmanship developed into a confident, brisk, linear style. Constrained by colour blindness, however, he chose a career as an illustrator, establishing himself at studios in Collins Street where he produced drawings, cartoons, and magazine and book illustrations. His place in the male, Bohemian art community was captured in Percy Lindsay's 'Smoke Night, Victorian Artists Society' (c.1896), which comprised medallion portraits of Nuttall and others including John Mather, Walter Withers and McCubbin. Nuttall belonged to the Melbourne Savage Club and was secretary of the Black and White Club (1900) before its affiliation with the Victorian Artists Society. He considered himself and his colleagues 'professional humorists', but he also produced postcards, drawings and etchings in the portrait, landscape and figurative genres.

Nuttall received a major commission in 1901 from a Melbourne business syndicate, the Historical Picture Association. His large monochromatic, sepia painting, 'The First Federal Parliament of Australia, May 1901', contained 343 recognizable portraits of the dignitaries present at the historic opening ceremony. The Paris engraving firm Goupil et Cie reproduced this 'fine and faithful impression' as a large photogravure edition. Well marketed—'No Australian Home will be complete without a Copy'—the print hung in homes, lobbies and State schools throughout the country, inspiring patriotism and reminding Australians of the birth of their nation. The importance of Nuttall's picture declined as the century progressed and was further eclipsed when Queen Elizabeth II returned Tom Roberts's epic painting of the same subject to Australia in 1960.

Slightly built and amiable, with a keen sense of humour and adventure, Nuttall was politically conservative, Anglican and strongly nationalist. During four years in the United States of America from 1905, he was successful as a staff artist on the New York Herald and contributed to Life, Scribner's Magazine, the Century, Harper's Bazaar and children's serial journals. His pictorial journalism was semi-autobiographical and after his return to Australia in 1910 he made use of anecdotes and sketches from his travels through Europe, North Africa and Egypt in various publications. These included Melbourne Punch, Table Talk, the Sydney Bulletin, New Idea, the boys' weekly paper Pals, the British Daily Graphic, and such books as Representative Australians (1902), school editions of R. M. Ballantyne's Coral Island (1910-22) and Melba's Gift Book of Australian Art and Literature (1915). On 4 December 1918 at St John's Church of England, Toorak, he married Leila Mary Blackbourn. They had no children.

In the late 1920s and 1930s Nuttall worked for the Melbourne radio-station 3LO and his programmes 'World at Large' and 'Thought for the Day' covered many contemporary issues, including employment during the Depression. Nuttall died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 28 November 1934 at his home at South Yarra, and was buried in Boroondara general cemetery, Kew, in his wife's family grave. She survived him. His art is represented in State, national and private collections and his painting of the first Federal parliament is displayed in the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Moore, Studio Sketches (Melb, 1906)
  • D. M. Dow, Melbourne Savages (Melb, 1947)
  • U. Prunster, The Legendary Lindsays (Syd, 1995)
  • D. Dunstan, Victorian Icon (Melb, 1996)
  • A. Colquhoun (ed), The Yearbook of Victorian Art 1922-23
  • New Idea, 6 Jan 1911, p 1
  • Pals, 26 Mar 1921, p 409
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 June 1903, p 4, 20 Dec 1986, ‘Saturday Extra’ p 2
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Nov 1934, p 10
  • private information.

Citation details

Sheridan Palmer, 'Nuttall, James Charles (1872–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 September, 1872
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


28 November, 1934 (aged 62)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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