George Frederick Folingsby

(23 August 1828 - 4 January 1891)

Born in County Wicklow, Ireland, at the age of 18 went to Canada and afterwards to New York. He was employed as a draughtsman for "Harper's Magazine," and occupied his evenings in studying drawing in the New York Academy. For some time he was pictorial editor of Cassell's American edition of the "Magazine of Art." Leaving America he travelled through Europe and in Asia Minor, Turkey and Greece, finally, in 1852, settling in Munich where he studied drawing and painting for two years. He then visited Paris, was a pupil for six months of Couture and then returned to Munich, where for five years he worked under Carl Von Piloty. In 1862 he was in Belfast and sent two pictures to the Royal Hibernian Academy: "The Relief of Derry," which was engraved, and published with a key by George Magill, Belfast, and "William of Orange receiving the Keys from the Governor of Carrickfergus." He returned to Munich and resided there for sixteen years, painting pictures of historical scenes and events which he exhibited at the principal art exhibitions. He contributed "The First Lesson" to the Royal Academy in 1869, and "Lady Jane's Victory over Bishop Gardiner" in 1871, and was awarded first class medals for historical painting in the Vienna Exhibition in 1873 and in the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876. In 1879 he left Munich and went to Australia and settled in Melbourne. He was appointed Director of the National Gallery of Victoria in April, 1884, and held that post until his death which took place in Melbourne. In the Melbourne Gallery are the following pictures by him: "John Bunyan in Prison," "First Meeting between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn," "Portrait of W. S. Lyster," "Portrait of Sir Charles Sladen" and "Portrait of the Hon. James Service." His portrait, painted by the Australian artist John Longstaff, is also in the Gallery.

Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

George Frederick Folingsby (1828-1891), artist and art teacher, was born on 23 August 1828 in County Wicklow, Ireland. At 18 he travelled to New York, attended the National Academy of Design and was illustrator for Harper's Magazine and the Illustrated Magazine of Art. After wide travel he studied drawing at the Munich Academy in 1852-54, and was briefly a pupil of Thomas Couture in Paris. Returning to Munich he spent five years under Karl von Piloty (1826-1886) who had a major influence on his style and technique. Folingsby stayed in Munich, established himself as a history and portrait painter and exhibited in London, Belfast and elsewhere. In Vienna in 1873 and Philadelphia in 1876 he won first-class medals for history painting. Some reproductions appeared in the Illustrated London News and the Graphic. Among his major works are 'The First Lesson', exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1869 and in 1871 'Lady Jane Grey's Victory over Bishop Gardiner'.

In 1878 Folingsby decided to leave Europe. The Report of the Trustees of the … National Gallery of Victoria stated that he would be prepared to settle in the colony if 'sufficient inducement' were offered. He was already known in Victoria for his painting, 'Bunyan in Prison', acquired in 1864, and the trustees commissioned another work for £500. Folingsby's name first appears in the Melbourne Directory of 1880. He promptly established himself as a portrait painter and became an examiner of art teachers. He was offered the position of 'Master in the School of Painting' at the gallery, and was appointed on 1 June 1882 at a salary of £600. In September he became director of the National Gallery and master in the School of Art.

Folingsby completely reorganized art teaching methods in Melbourne. Students ceased to copy paintings; following the Munich school they drew and painted directly from life, made academic studies of the antique and still life and progressed to studies in composition. The separate Schools of Design and Painting were co-ordinated. Folingsby did not discourage outdoor sketching but preferred studio finish: 'The man who paints landscape in open air is a fool'. He stressed good drawing and 'broad and simple' work. An exacting and able teacher, he taught the fundamentals of art and a disciplined approach. His interest in history painting may have stimulated awareness of national themes. In November 1883 he initiated annual student exhibitions, and on his advice the travelling scholarship was introduced in 1887. The student exhibitions were commended in the press but he was later criticized for teaching the Munich method of painting with a bituminous base. Among his students were Frederick McCubbin, David Davies, John Longstaff, Rupert Bunny, Emanuel Phillips Fox and Aby Altson. McCubbin later wrote: 'The influence of Folingsby was a great stimulus to us all'. Alexander Colquhoun found his attitude 'intimate and stimulating'; Bunny felt he had to 'unlearn nothing'. The academic method was, however, considered detrimental to landscape painting.

As director, Folingsby reorganized the gallery and advised the trustees on purchases. He discontinued the frequent cleaning and restoration of paintings, and obtained much needed studios for the Art School. As a painter he was not involved in local art and art organizations, but exhibited with the Victorian Academy of Art in March 1883 and by invitation briefly joined the Australian Artists' Association in 1887.

The National Gallery of Victoria has Folingsby's 'Bunyan in Prison' and 'First Meeting between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn' as well as various studies, including landscapes. His completed works are realistic, carefully arranged and meticulous in finish; some of his studies are very free and spontaneous. The Historical Collection of the La Trobe Library, Melbourne, has his portraits of William Saurin Lyster, 1883, Sir Charles Sladen, 1884, and James Service, 1886. Mitchell Library, Sydney, has his portrait of Sir Hercules Robinson. Folingsby's wife Clara, née Wagner, then a recognized landscapist, is represented by broad and high-keyed studies in the National Gallery of Victoria. Folingsby died on 4 January 1891 and was buried in the Church of England section of Kew cemetery, Melbourne. He was survived by his daughter Grace.

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