Photo of the Day

photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum

Queen Victoria cinefoil castings

April 24th, 2014 by

Biennale artists

This is one of the beautiful and detailed castings that were recently made by the artists Hadley + Maxwell as part of their work for the 19th  Biennale of Sydney.  They made these castings using cinefoil, which is normally used for theatrical lighting,  from one of the objects in our collection, the bust of Queen Victoria.

artists Biennale

The artist spent three full hours making these castings, rubbing the cinefoil into the details of the bust to get as many of the features as they could.  Their final artwork is on at Carriageworks now as part of the 19th Biennale of Sydney.

You can watch a video on how they made these castings here on a previous post.

Photography by Sotha Bourn

© All rights reserved

World Book and Copyright Day

April 23rd, 2014 by

Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection, glass plate negative

This portrait from an unattributed studio was taken some time in the 1880s. Although the book features prominently the photograph was was classified in the Tyrrell Collection index as an example of ladies costume. Books in portraits were often used in portraits to signify that the subject was literate and educated. Unfortunately the text of the book in this photograph is illegible so we can’t learn any details about this well dressed woman’s chosen reading matter but the Japonisme of the interior in which she has been photographed may hold a clue.

Today is World Book and Copyright Day. By celebrating this day throughout the world, UNESCO seeks to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright. To read more about World Book and Copyright Day, see the UNESCO website. Photography by unattributed studio, Tyrrell Collection 85/1286-484 No known copyright restrictions

Colonial Secretary’s Office – Justice and Mercy

April 22nd, 2014 by


This photograph from the Tyrrell collection shows the Colonial Secretary’s Office on the corner of Bridge, Macquarie and Phillip streets, Sydney. Designed by Colonial architect James Barnet, work commenced on the building in 1873. Barnet also designed the Garden Palace building in the Botanic Gardens and the two projects were completed simultaneously in 1879, the latter being destroyed by fire in 1882.

A sense of national pride stimulated by international exhibitions, coupled with the wealth in the colony at this time resulted in many large architectural projects as well as an increase in the commissioning and purchase of sculpture.

Achille Simonetti, an Italian sculptor who had trained at the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca in Rome, arrived in Brisbane in 1871 and travelled to Sydney in 1874. Simonetti gained a considerable reputation in Australia. He won many awards and significant members of colonial society, including Colonial Secretary Sir Henry Parkes, commissioned portrait busts from him.

At the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, Simonetti showed the life size plaster model for his Venus of the South, a piece which attracted much attention and led to several commissions including that for the six allegorical figures for the façade of the Colonial Secretary’s building. The tender for the statues was accepted on April 22, 1879, for ₤215 each.

In addition to that of the Colonial Secretary, the building also housed the offices of Principal Under Secretary, the Colonial Architect, the Engineer in Chief for Railways, the Engineer in Chief for Harbours and Rivers and the Commissioner for Public Works. The allegorical statues were an important expression of the colony’s allegiance to the values of the British crown. On the Macquarie street corner the figures of Wisdom, Justice and Mercy, (in ascending order) proclaim the political and moral aspirations of the office while those on the Phillip street corner attest to its social and cultural values: Art, Science and Labour.

The figure of Justice, (see detail below) was placed in the middle niche of the Macquarie Street side in 1878 and that of Mercy in the niche above in 1879, possibly for purposes of the architect’s inspection. They were later removed to be exhibited at the Melbourne International exhibition of 1880-81. Intercolonial rivalry was strong at the time and Simonetti’s acclaimed work represented New South Wales to its best advantage. At a time when most sculpture in the colony had been produced in Europe, Simonetti was highly valued and sought after for his training and knowledge of classical sculpture.

One of Simonetti’s best known works is the monument to Governor Phillip in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens. Commissioned by Sir Henry Parkes for the Centennial celebrations, the work, at a total cost of ₤13,000, was the most extravagant and expensive ever produced at the time in the colony. Much of the casting and marble carving was carried out in Italy under Simonetti’s direction.

Achille Simonetti is represented in the collections of Parliament House, Sydney; The University of Sydney; The Art Gallery of New South Wales; The Mitchell Library, Sydney; Parliament House, Brisbane and the University of Adelaide. For more information about the life of Achille Simonetti see the Australian Dicitionary of Biography online.



Post by Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian

Photography by unattributed studio, Tyrrell Collection

No known copyright restrictions

Miss Grace Palotta

April 21st, 2014 by


Photographs of glamorous theatrical celebrities wearing the latest fashions were very popular with postcard buyers and collectors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Viennese-born Grace Palotta was a particular favourite in Australia, and admired both on and off the stage for her style. The photographs above and below show how the same negative has been used to produce two different postcards, one showing a full length view a detail showing only her face and hat.

The postcards were produced by Talma studios in Melbourne. Talma, established in 1895, was one of a number of studios in Sydney and Melbourne whose success was dependent upon the commercial portrait trade. The studio was run by Andrew Barrie with Sir Henry Weedon, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, as his partner. Talma studios produced thousands of theatrical portraits in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, catering to a growing demand for photographs of performers, royalty and other celebrities. The performance elements of a theatrical production could be more easily staged in a studio than captured live and the portability of photographs and made them popular as both gifts and mementoes.

The postcards are part of a collection made by Amy and Lindy Hall of West Maitland, New South Wales, between 1905 and 1925. More postcards from this collection can be viewed on the Powerhouse Museum online collection database.

Document from the Powerhouse Museum Collection



Anne-Marie Willis, Picturing Australia: a history of photography, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1988


Post by Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian


Photography by Talma Studios

No known copyright restrictions

Trophy eggs

April 18th, 2014 by

A3221 Cricket trophy by W.Kerr

During Easter, eggs (usually chocolate) are on the minds of many people, so it seems appropriate to feature emu eggs. This image shows a detail from our spectacular  silver and emu egg cricket trophy made by the colonial silversmith William Kerr in 1879.

The scene shows a cricket match in progress with a batsman ready at the crease, a bowler with the ball in his raised hand and the wicket keeper ready behind the stumps. In all the trophy includes 12 players, 10 Australian, two English (batting) and two umpires. The scene is flanked by two small palm trees each supporting a silver-mounted emu egg.

The trophy was made  to celebrate the success of the first Australian Eleven in  England in 1878.  It was exhibited at the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 (where it was Highly Commended)  but never presented as a trophy.  It stood in the window of Kerr’s shop in George Street Sydney until it closed in 1938 when the piece was donated to the Museum.

Please visit our online collection database for more information about this superb object.


A3221 Cricket trophy, in the form of a cricket pitch with players, silver, emu eggs, glass and wood, made by William Kerr, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1879.


Post by Lynne McNairn, Web and Social Tehnologies

Photography: Sotha Bourn and Penelope Clay

© All rights reserved


A milk maid for Easter

April 17th, 2014 by

 86/468 Advertisement Postcard, NSW Fresh Food & Ice Company, [Australia], 1900-1910

In Sydney, the Royal Easter Show brings ‘the country to the city’ and one of the highlights is looking at the many breeds of cattle brought in for judging at one of the most prestigious cattle shows in Australia.  This image is from a postcard produced by the NSW Fresh Food and Ice Company in about 1905. It shows a Jersey cow and a smiling maiden with her bonnet and skirt highlighted in red

The NSW Fresh Food and Ice Company was established by Thomas Mort in 1875. Their activities included a slaughtering and chilling works at Bowenfels in the Blue Mountains, a cold store at Darling Harbour (on the site where the Chinese Gardens now stand), milk depots in the Southern Tablelands, and refrigerated railway vans for meat and milk. The company operated until 1952 when it was taken over by Peters Consolidated Milk Industries.

Post by Lynne McNairn, Web and Social Technologies

Photographer unknown

No known copyright restrictions.


Approaching Easter Island in the Catalina Frigate Bird II

April 16th, 2014 by

View of Easter Island from the Frigate Bird II


Easter is approaching and we all wish for fine weather. This image of a moody sky over Easter Island was taken from the Catalina Flying Boat Frigate Bird II in March 1951 during its pioneering flight across the South Pacific Ocean from Sydney to Chile.

In 1951 this was last ocean to be crossed by air. Aircraft at the time were considerably smaller than today’s jetliners and could carry quite limited amounts of fuel. The Frigate Bird made eight stops across the Pacific with Easter Island being the last stop before South America. The previous stop was Mangareva Island in French Polynesia; a distance of 14,000 miles (22,531 kms).

Finding the small volcanic outcrop of Easter Island in the vast South Pacific Ocean required serious navigation skills using calculations from charts and analogue equipment including compass, chronometer and sextant (this was long before global satellite systems). So pilot PG Taylor and his crew of were glad to see Easter Island as it appeared out of the rain in the early morning light.

More information about the Frigate Bird II can be found on our Collection Database.

Photographer, possibly Jack Percival, Official Correspondent, Frigate Bird II, 1951.

No known copyright restrictions.

Music and lollies

April 15th, 2014 by

Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection, glass plate negative

This photograph from the Tyrrell collection appears to show the fun part of King Street, Sydney in the early years of the 20th century.  On the left is J. Albert & Son’s music store advertising Edison phonographs and Boomerang mouth organs.  Above the street was  a display of musical instruments in the window, (see detail below).

Jacques Albert, (1850-1914) a Swiss watchmaker and musician, came to Australia in 1884. He opened a watch and clock repair shop in Newtown and later expanded to selling musical instruments and sheet music. In 1902, the company that was by then J. Albert & Son, opened in King Street, Sydney. Albert’s was best known for their Boomerang mouth organs  (manufactured in Germany),  examples of which can be seen in the online collection database. According to our collection records, between late 1896 and late 1897 an estimated 44,000 mouth organs, including the ‘Boomerang’, were sold by Alberts. Boomerang songsters, pocket sized books with music and lyrics to popular songs were also sold at Albert’s. Just cross the road from Albert’s was the ‘Best Lollies’ shop, (see second detail below).

Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection, glass plate negative



Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection, glass plate negative


Photography by Kerry & Co.,

No known copyright restrictions

Strictly rehearsal

April 14th, 2014 by


This shot of director Baz Lurhmann in action was taken by Powerhouse photographer Marinco Kojdanovski during a rehearsal at Carriageworks for the stage show, Strictly Ballroom, The Musical. It gives a glimpse of the shoes and boots from Tuesday’s post in context. To the left of the photograph some of them can be seen lined up against the wall of the rehearsal studio. Others may have made it to the dance floor.

Costumes from the original movie Strictly Ballroom are now on display at the Powerhouse Museum in the Strictly Ballroom  Story which features costumes from the  Baz Luhrmann movie collection,  created by Catherine Martin and generously donated to the Museum in 1991. The exhibition will coincide with Strictly Ballroom’s return to its theatrical roots with a new stage version opening at Sydney Lyric Theatre in April 2014.



Photography by Marinco Kojdanovski

© All rights reserved


No 1 Sussex Street, Sydney, c 1890

April 11th, 2014 by

85/1284-1669 Glass negative, full plate, 'Sussex Street at Grafton Wharf', Kerry and Co, Sydney, Australia, c. 1884-1917

This image shows the workings of the busy docks in Darling Harbour in around the 1890s. The area pictured is Grafton Wharf which was used by the Clarence and Richmond River Steam Navigation Company. The building in the centre is No 1 Sussex Street which was used as offices by the steamship companies. One sign by the door reads ‘Ship Engineer, Adelaide S. Co, Up Stairs’. This area now forms part of the Barangaroo site.

There are many intriguing details in this image.

Detail Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection, glass plate negative

Detail 1: Horses and men wait patiently to pick up or deliver their loads. The horse behind wears fancy brass harness while the one in front is plain.


detail Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection, glass plate negative

Detail 2: Barrels and crates wait to be loaded. One man man rides on a crate while others pull or push the trolley. Their progress is watched by two men in suits and another with two dogs (one balanced on a barrel).

 Details Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection, glass plate negative

Detail 3: Two young women walk across the cobblestones. A man in a bowler hat appears disapproving. What has he said to them?


Post by Lynne McNairn, Web and Social Media

Photography: Kerry & Co

No known copyright restrictions





Next Page >