James R. Jackson's Life - A Biography
James Ranalph Jackson was born on 3 July 1882
near Palmerston, New Zealand. His parents were George Albert Jackson, an English surveyor descendant from a renowned family of silversmiths and watchmakers, and Mary Ann Julia Leach born in India, who had emigrated together to New Zealand in 1874.
Jackson was one of eleven siblings, living in modest but happy circumstances. Mary Ann died in 1890 after giving birth to another child. With the depression of the early 1890s making life very difficult for the single father, George took the large family to live in Darlinghurst in Sydney.
Living conditions were hard in Australia, too. The Jackson family however was assisted by a local Baptist minister, and from 1896 Reverend W.R. Hiddleston was looking after James in particular, and supporting him. Jackson displayed his artistic talent from an young age, drawing whenever and wherever he could. Sydney Harbour left a great impression on the boy, and it would remain a favourite subject for his entire life.
James R. Jackson, 1933, photograph by H. Cazneaux
for "The Australian Home Beautiful", 1/5/1933
Jackson left school at a young age and was apprenticed to
a decorator company, where his love and talent for drawing was ever more evident than
at school. His boss encouraged him to approach Frank Mahoney, a teacher at the Royal Art Society. Soon after, Jackson started attending night classes at the RAS, and from 1902 attended also the J. S. Watkins Art School. During this time, Jackson got to know Sydney Harbour intimately not only through trips in his own small sailing boat, but also racing on 18-footer yachts, and these experiences left him with a lifelong love for the outdoors, sailing and fishing.
1905 saw him winning the RAS scholarship and first prize in drawing and painting from life. His dream to visit Europe to further his
artistic practice was now much closer to realisation. Jackson tried to study with Bernard Hall at the National
Gallery School in Melbourne first, yet this plan didn’t work,
and having found a cheap sea fare via New Zealand to Europe, Jackson headed for London in 1906. He managed to immediately enroll with Frank Brangwyn. His teachings would provide Jackson with a sound understanding of paint, preparation and colour, tone and composition.
Funds were again an issue, and made Jackson move to less expensive Paris to study
at the Academy Colarossi. This move also allowed him to travel through France, Italy
and Spain, completing his first European paintings.
On his return to Sydney in 1908 Jackson moved to North Sydney and joined
the Royal Art Society which gave him the first opportunity to exhibit works. Jackson went on to exhibit with the RAS for many years, and from 1917 to 1926 also taught drawing and painting at the RAS school.
Jackson’s paintings were received very
favourably: the Art Gallery of New South Wales bought their first work by him
in 1910, titled ‘Maidenhood’, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported on 26
August 1910. The positive reviews in the press and the commercial success continued
throughout the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s.
The love of the outdoors led Jackson to enjoy the many artists' camps around Sydney in the 1910s, in particular the camp at Balls Head Bay, but also Dee Why which was frequented by James Muir Auld and other RAS artists. From 1913 the artists' camp at Narrabeen was the introduction to Jackson's lifelong attraction to Sydney's Northern Beaches and the start of his regular and frequent painting trips to country New South Wales and Victoria which he would undertake well into his seventies.
Jackson also established firm links with
Melbourne: he joined the Australian Art Association in 1916, exhibiting there and
gaining a loyal following. In 1920, Gayfield Shaw Art Salon put together the
first solo exhibition for Jackson in Sydney.
In 1924, Jackson’s “Middle Harbour from Manly
Heights” was the painting that would launch one of Australia’s most eminent
regional galleries, the Manly Art Gallery & Museum. Read more about it in James R. Jackson's exhibition history.
While teaching at the Royal Art Society, he met
Dora Toovey, one of the young students, who was to become his wife, marrying her on 10
December 1924. Two years later, the couple set off for a two-year trip
to Europe, visiting France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and the UK. The trip
inspired both artists, as their landscapes of the South of France, the Spanish
mainland and islands and Venice still demonstrate.
After returning to Australia in 1928, the
couple had their first child 1929, a daughter, Jacqueline. They also built their own
home including artist’s studios at Battle Boulevarde in Seaforth, Sydney, a
project that was very much that of his wife Dora. However, the depression of
the 1930s was particularly hard on this artistic couple, and they had to lease
and eventually sell their home. Jackson, Toovey and their young daughter went
to live around Gloucester where life was cheaper, and where the landscape still
proved to be an inspiration. Finally, in 1936, they were able to return to
Sydney, and had their second child, Murray. The couple grew apart and divorced in
James R. Jackson and Dora Toovey in Europe in 1927
A foundation member of the Australian Academy
of Art in 1937, this association was an additional opportunity to exhibit for
Jackson which he did for nine years.
Jackson had not joined World War I, perhaps too shocked by the death of a brother at Gallipoli in 1915. In 1942, he did however enroll with the Camouflage Section for the Defence Department and was stationed at Richmond Air Base, where his knowledge of colour was used for the camouflage of planes and guns. He was discharged when it was discovered that his true age was over sixty.
Jackson continued painting and exhibiting works
until the early 1970s, showing regularly in solo and group exhibitions in Sydney and in Melbourne with Sedon
Galleries. Moreton Galleries held his first solo exhibition in Brisbane in 1954 with 26 paintings, showing works of Sydney Harbour and the
rugged landscapes of country Australia. In 1966, he was made an Honorary Life Vice-President by the Royal Art Society. In the same year, Block Galleries presented a one man show with 36 recent paintings in Melbourne, and they also held the artist's last solo exhibition in 1972.
Jackson lived modestly in Neutral Bay until
his death on 9 September 1975.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales alone today holds
16 paintings by Jackson, acquired between 1910 ('Maidenhood') and 1955 ('Pathway, Athol Gardens'), and his works are represented in the collection of the National
Gallery of Australia, as well as many state galleries and numerous regional
galleries in Australia.
Transcript of the interview with James R. Jackson by Hazel de Berg in 1965
You can also listen to the interview here; the sound recording is held in the National Library of Australia.
This is James Jackson
speaking. I was born in New Zealand, Palmerston North. I was very
fond of scribbling on board. Because I like painting,
I like drawing. And the only things I knew were boats in the harbour and other little different things.
But one time at
school they offered a little prize
the best drawing of a lamppost. That was one of the old octagon shape lamppost. It was no weather and the
teacher said: “all make it homework.” The following morning, a fellow of mine, Lee
William, he won the
The next afternoon the teacher was very doubtful about
this, the drawing.
it had been a wet afternoon, so I said to my father: “Hey
Dad, I have got to
a lamppost for this competition”.
down to the street, sit down and draw one.” It was plenty on the street, the one hexagonal shape lamppost, old style octagonal shape with the cross bar around. He went around and pulled down the
with the hook and turned on the light at
And then they were rather graceful in shape and the next
afternoon the teacher said: “All draw the lamppost.
Poor Lee knew nothing about it.
I’ve being making
a mental judgment on a first study I made. And I found it to draw, the perspective of octagonal
lampshade from underneath it. However,
I must have succeeded on how it looked like a
lamppost. Well after that I don’t remember much about the drawing, but I was always scribbling around.
Apprentice years. Beginning of studies. First art school
Later on I was apprenticed
to decorators that was the time before they used
wallpaper very much in the best building. They employed these semi-artists to end work decorations in the room. It was a fine example in Macquarie Street, in the old building.
scribbling on one of the walls. And the fellow came in and said:
“Look Jimmy, you
have some fun drawing and scribbling around, so and so, why don’t you take lessons? I said:
”Where?” He said “I’ll introduce you to Frank Mahony”. I said: “Who is this?” “He is a fine animal painter, fine draughtsman, he draws from the bullet”. I said: that’s good. So I went down there and spoke and they said “Well, Yes.”
went down and I started with
Mahony and I was in antique propository try for about 9 months
put me in the life class. And at the end of
about 12 months, Mahony was going to England and was saying goodbye to the
school, to the
students, so he shook hands with me and he said: “Jackson, you stick to it, old man. You stick
to it”. And they
said: “What did he say to you?”
I said: “You’ve heard.” Now that
was a great compliment. Mahony must have felt that some little grain of mustard seed
about that side of the artistic mind in me. Otherwise
he was a
very sincere man and if he would not
have said so.
Travel to Europe. Colarossi Art Academy
in Paris. Nellie Melba first
From then on I went to the Royal
Art Society classes and from then eventually went to
Paris, but I had a sister living in New Zealand, and I missed the boats and seas, and so I thought I’ll go to see her for a week. I got a boat around the Cape Horn
trip it was! Good for a tourist month of excitement or for a good picture man: around
the Cape Horn the mid winter!
I landed in Paris and I joined up with Brangwyn, Frank Brangwyn School and as
you know he was a very, very
I’ve been o the school and he took
notice of my work. And one morning when he was working on, the whole school knocked
the brushes and they said: "By the way, where are you from?"
I said: “I am
from Australia’. He
“What are you from the bloody rim of the earth? I said:
said: “not so hot and so on, so on... Anyway, he put me right
how to get colour and tone and he
very proud of it.
money was running short and I
thought that I would like and it was very much cheaper to live in Paris.
I went over to Paris. And I joined up with
and my luck was on
my side and when my money was nearly run out, the professor asked me to paint for academy Colarossi, paint for the Louvre for the coming exhibition.
However, I missed out on that and I came back to
And then, I stayed studying by myself when I had a studio in North Sydney and it was about two years after that I made
my first debut as an exhibitionist. So I exhibited with
Royal Art my first exhibition.
My first patron of the arts was Madam Melba. And the papers published at that time that Jimmy Jackson’s smile lit up whole corner of the
Art Society. So you can imagine when my picture
in the dark corner. Well, after that, the
Sydney gallery bought, then Melbourne, then Sydney, New Zealand, and National Gallery of America.
I have many pictures in America
England, London, Scotland from pibo deals. However, since then
last picture I had that was a large picture to the St Andrews
Club of New York. I thought
a lot of it.
When late Carl was over there.
Note from Nellie Melba to James R. Jackson on 8/8/1921
Carl noticed the picture over there: ‘You
are interested in it?” “Yea, it’s a bit of Australia”. He said: “Much more, I know the artist.” He
gave this out at the opening on the evening. And I was very proud of it. Since then I painted figures and portraits too for quite a number of years. After a good considerable time
I took up landscape and I am now fascinated with landscape.
Although I still paint small figures in them. I am very fond of landscape. I was paying a great attention to it for these
last few years.
Going back to Paris, I was doing OK. I went down to Martigues I painted down there. I’ve met Augustus John. As a matter of fact, we frequently went to his studio. He had the idea that he
could work better down there. You see the light in the winter in London is very poor.
In the winter
is it very beautiful at Martigues,
it is the South of France and very beautiful.
At the first introduction I met John, I did not know that was Augustus John.
I was working on the banks at Martigues,
and it was forty painters with easels and all were really cold. We all came along rugged
and he propped at my work and said: “That’s going well... Keep going.”
at lunchtime at
hotel, the waiter brought a card to me and said that gentlemen would like to have a
little liqueur with him after
lunch. I walked down and I said:
the way, I remember no introduction to you.” He was Fullwood (?).
The rumours are
I am very well, healthy... and he invited me to his studio, then I met him in London and we had several outings, played even sport. However, if I had stayed
in London, we would have got on very well. But now I am going to Australia
after that to enter the
Return to Australia. Encounter with Tom Roberts. Comments on contemporaries
After I returned to Australia, and was in the
Melbourne gallery and saw “The
“Purple Noon’s Transparent Might” painted by Sir Arthur Streeton. It was then the
looked at and you how it goes,
had painting, and still have a picture by Sid Long that was painted when he was about 20. I’m doubtful whether any picture or any artist painted more favourable pictures,
it was equal to the best French painting at that period.
I always had a great admiration
for his work. He
an extremely simple, kindly and resourceful type of a fellow,
and very proud and very lenient towards
other painters. I’ll always remember a
little function on. They were putting on some act or countring
something and that
a great pride of the artists. They moved on to
a little bar
at the back to have some drinks. They
all wanted to take
a look, and Sir Roberts
said to me: “Jimmy
you don’t want to see this show. Do you?”
I said: “No, not particularly.”
sit down and have a beer, a drink and a chat.”
it was a great and he would have been a very
human type of fellow.
He is one of our very outstanding or the greatest Australian artist that is he would be compared favourably with the English or at that time with the Royal
a great opinion of Australian Art.
Today we get diverse criticism. And I
don’t know why but at the time, the president at the dinner of the Royal
Academy, which is an
extremely particular function, the President, said that the Australians had something that we haven’t. That was right.
It was the most spontaneous method of putting colour down, which was very happy and pleasant
to look at. But today we get
a hell of a
doing in the press,
we send an exhibition to London. I can’t make out why, but I am afraid the student is no longer a real student when all
he wants to be
is real clever. Well, that’s
alright for a little while, but when grow
you want more sincerity, more thought and
feeling, not so much of this
“is it exciting?”
It’s all good when you are
very young, but after a while, you don’t want to brush painting
all the time. From that, well, but I think however we will come back to really more stable and more
thorough outlook on it today.
The things are getting most praised today, the things that are not quite original, they are picked up other men's work with a bit of alteration and they proclaim as
Jackson with Dora Toovey back right, 1935
as right work,
as far as I see it. Well, on the other side, I think I would
say that there are one or two
student that are coming on possibly will be fine painters.
How to mix colours; specific
approach to painting process
When painting figures outdoor or indoor, which I painted quite a number, and find that
I like to, it depends on outdoor, how far, how large a picture, but normally indoor would be 15 feet away, so you can have a two point perspective without getting it
near, too close.
the way, I mostly in a pouch in a palette I mix all the colours, the background and the colours of the
figure, I first think I put the highest tone onto the canvas. And that would be not white, it will be a subdued white, because
you never go to the full extent of your colour scheme, you almost have something in retirement so you can higher or lower the tone.
Then when I’ve
got these mixed, I place them all in the
right place and try to keep it very simple and toning and the modelling comes with the darker
tones, it saves a great deal of time because the
models really keep still and outdoor, the light is changing
very quickly in the shadows, so you’ve got to work fairly rapidly. I
found that to give the best
result rather than to having white, the blue and so and so and so, then mix a little bit – it takes too long, but you have a pile of the majority of colour mix, you can easily make greys, make
it cooler by adding a blue, or a
green, or grey, or brown. It takes quite a considerable amount of time
and your work will always look fresher and better. But the problem is to put the colours down
About portrait painting
In portraits, I painted several
were successful. Mostly the sitter
for me, from four to six mornings, for about two hours and a quarter or two hours. But they would not be sitting still all the time; they would have a
while you correct things.
That would be
abut a fair time for an ordinarily bishop
size portrait, that is 40 x 30.
The outdoor figures that I am very fond that I paint quite a number of,
there you would have to
very, very quickly. The
main thing is to
keep your drawing and the figure, because
the light is changing and that scintillation of sunlight in the picture. Sydney Gallery has three or four examples of that in my work and the
Melbourne gallery has one, one or two. I find
that you want to have
your palette all ready and be able to
values and weights, so every colour will get a
recession of the figure in the colour and the colours are
correct, otherwise the who
things would ever look if it was outdoor.
And now the
figure painting is a very,
very difficult proposition, much more so then
painting the figure indoor. I think it’s owned to the fact of the
sunlight and the alteration of shadows gives an extreme height of colouring in the lighting of the figure. However, these things to my point of view turned out fairly successful
I think they must have been
very good because quite a number have gone to different galleries.
The story of evening
dress related to the painting ‘Morning in the Studio’.
Specific description of painting technique
I have a picture purchased by the National Gallery in Sydney; it’s a woman in evening dress but a lovely old taffeta skirt, and she
is looking through an open window, large open window on to the harbour, with just dawn, and the light
flickering on the water.
I think that that
was one of my finest paintings. I got the idea after
a little party. It was a party standing at the window and I thought
that’ll paint well. I got
friend of mine who had a rather extremely fine dress and
got her to pose for me. I drew the thing in and I
made a preliminary sketch of it and
then I got her to pose for me. I painted the
head, the hands and I put the different colours temporary
the dress and so not to embarrass the canvas, I put the
colours down and take them all off with turps so
it wouldn’t be greasy and that. Then I painted the skirt
and the blouse, all in one
You have to be
good. The folds in the
skirt alter completely you have to
sure of it. In these days …. that wonderful thing in the Prado gallery
the drapery that is considered quite a masterpiece. When I
was a student,
they used to have an enlargement of this and they don’t
I should tell
that was painting directly, straight out,
just in the one go. I followed that out
and found it most successful.
I have before me a picture called “Morning in the
Studio”, a young
girl with an old
fashioned dress, the dress is about 75 years old now, it’s her
mother’s dress really,
and that was
painted under the same
conditions, the drapery, which is sort from the artist point of view has been very successful.
It was painted straight through without stopping. Now you
to be in very good form to make it very satisfactory. That is without touching and messing around with the thing. The head, the neck and the arms were painted
separately, after having the colour placed around them and then
wiped away so it would
embarrass the canvas again. However
it turned out very successful
one picture I have not parted with.
James R. Jackson, Morning in the Studio, 1915, National Gallery of Australia
On painting in general
I am finding subjects suitable to paint, it’s rather difficult
to choose one. One
knows instinctively that something of great attraction you must
paint it. And therefore when you think what the picture is to be
make possibly little preliminary ideas of it and then you will get a fair person to pose for you.
If it’s a landscape, you get quite
a thrill out of it. The
peculiar thing about landscape t is plenty of it,
might have a
of mountains around you but you don’t want to paint, and some simple little things that strike you. And you feel that you must paint it but you know
very well when you start if you like
the thing the paint seems to fall of the brush into
the blank space and you get
excited about it. But when the subjects you do, you say I
may paint it or may not, then nothing goes right, it drags and is scraped out. But you feel instinctively that
the thing’s going to go right because you have such enthusiasm about
Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo in Art Society
I remember one time going
out with Dattilo-Rubbo Ramsgate landscape painting and we walked up the steep hill then we got to the top and I said to Rubbo and he did not speak. Then he said:
”Ah, Jackson, this is grand opera” and he looked at the landscape and he was so taken and
so excited about the
thing. Although he was not a great landscaper, but
must admire his old figures, old tramps and …. that he painted remarkably well.
Rubbo was a rare
character. He had quite a lot, and of humorous
stories are told about Rubbo. He was one of our very fine instructors of drawing.
Peculiar thing, he wasn’t
for me a great painter, but some of his things were
remarkably fine. But as an instructor, quite a number of the students or artists owe their encouragement from Rubbo as they were taught to be capable of drawing.
By the way, Signor Rubbo was a member of the council at the Royal Art Society and he went the distinguished
people are coming around, the Governor used to go there, it was quite popular then, with lot of celebrities, and one time Lady Walder
and some other lady came along and the
President said to Signor Rubbo: ”Rubbo, just show these ladies around the exhibition.” And he said: “Certainly.” The
other lady came to a
picture and she said: “Oh, isn’t that a beautiful picture? Oh,
a pity it’s sold, it’s got a red spot on it.” So came to another and she said:
”Oh, I like that very, very much indeed. Here my luck is out. It’s got a red spot in it.
The third picture, Rubbo’s a bit annoyed about it, “Oh,
”Is it not a wonderful picture and it’s sold?”
said: ”Madam, that is where you coma
da gutsa”. He said
“That is a red spot
paint.” The secretary
was Oxenard Smith,
Rubbo, she said:” Rubbo,
that’s not a proper way to speak
front of a lady”.
said: ”What, coma da gutsa? He
“That’s not good English”. He
said: “Good English, my boy,
he goes to Grammar school, he says ‘coma da gutsa’
it is good English.”
decision to get back to figure painting; opinion on Lambert
At the present I have devoted myself
solely to landscape. I am painting landscape early morning, middle
harbour, with the sun reflected on the water, which I find is the most difficult thing, but I am quite enthralled with the idea of it and I think from my point of view it
will be looking very well.
As a matter of fact, a party came
all the way from Melbourne, and was very interested in the painting, and they seem to like the thing tremendously. I paint, I have been painting several
harbour landscapes, although I practically
have given up the idea because
I think I painted sufficiently the harbour, that is in sunlight.
James R. Jackson' studio, 1933
photograph by H. Cazneaux for "The Australian Home Beautiful", 1/5/1933
And I devoted myself very lightly as I want to go away to the
country, I am very fond of outback country painting. I went up to Mount Isaac for the country to
paint two landscapes. While I was there, I painted two or three lovely red cliffs and hills. They were very beautiful in colour.
got back now and to a quite a scheme of colour, that is New South Wales. I am very happy about it. Now I am getting a feeling that I want to
back to figure painting for a change.
I hope next time
I exhibit, they will
my figure work, as I have not exhibited a
figure for a quite
a number of years, except small outdoor figures. But on the same
indoor subject, which have died out completely. You see Lambert was a very,
very great painter, but even now he gets very little notice and the style of things have altered slightly. But however, I don’t suppose the mind of
artist, his own feeling, have altered because I think the longer
these fellows are painting, the moderns would like to be painting something
like Lambert. I am not so sure, but I think that.
can only paint the things they love to paint and want to paint, otherwise it’s useless. At
the moment you take on commissions for the sake of
money, the commission is invariably a failure. But a good artist, if he likes the subject, I have never taken the commission unless I
the subject, I’ll say I’ll come out and have a look at the station property. If I
it, I’ll paint it. If
not – don’t worry. That is
the only condition when I take the commission on the landscape, but
I had several
and one party, Mr Willoughby
Down, of Gunman station, he said have a look around and I told him how
I work. They built a little shed with a roof
it, so I could work and everything. And quite a liberal appear, they had a word
I finished, he bought three pictures and I thought the better one was with some sheep underneath small pine trees on a hot day was sunlight on hill and beyond.
however, I painted also
and went to England and quite enjoyed the
trip. But otherwise I try to stay away from commissions; I find they are very difficult and tedious unless you are really fond and enthusiastic about the
On being an Australian painter
Coming back to Australia, I visited Spain for some time,
trip, but London, I felt
that the artists had a very difficult
time owing to the fog, and the lighting is not very good. But in Australia it’s fascinating, the light and the colour and the beautiful sunlight which is the essence of an artist’s
live actually. And the main thing is the colour and light that one tries to paint
And it’s very brilliant and very difficult, and I feel
of all the countries, and I have been to
quite a number,
I would like to live in, is Australia. And I feel that Australia has a great opportunity to being
a very, very fine artist country.
James R Jackson seated, c1933
In the past, we eventually
turned out some extraordinary fine artists, although
we have done well up
present time, seen that we are only 200 years old. And I think as we advance, we will improve.
average person would think, the artist’s life is a very happy one, it is actually, but the struggle
to keep in advance and one always feels they might be slipping, and you’ve got to analyse your work and there is no other critic can tell
what’s wrong. So you’ve got to be your own critic
and creator at the same time, which is very
You’ve got to keep them both very well primed up, otherwise you will feel that your work might be sliding and going back. As an artist, I think, the great thing is to always remember that to doubt your own work and buyers, and put away and being in doubt a week afterwards, and have a look at it and see what think about it, because if you will continually look at it,
fail to see the mistakes of
it. However, I feel that the painter’s life is really happy, and the only thing is the struggle to keep freshness of a painting and keep painting freshly is a very difficult proposition indeed.
Sound recording copyright with National Library of Australia