Sunday, 25 October 2015


“Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” - Claude Monet

William Blamire Young (1862-1935), artist, was born on 9 August 1862 at Londesborough, Yorkshire, England, son of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Young, land agent, and his wife Mary, née Bowser. William was educated at Forest School, Walthamstow, Essex, and Pembroke College, Cambridge (B.A., 1884; M.A., 1897). In 1885 he was appointed mathematics master at Katoomba College, New South Wales. “Enthusiastic, 191 cm tall, strong and healthy and very fond of cricket”, he was active in the local community and established a friendship with the cartoonist Phil May.

In 1893 Young went back to England. After a short period at Herkomer’s art school at Bushey, Hertfordshire, he became involved with the innovative poster work of the ‘Beggarstaffs’. On 1 July 1895 at St Peter’s parish church, Bushey, he married Mabel Ellen Sawyer, an accomplished woodcarver whose work contributed to their support. He returned to Australia and in 1895-98 was art advertising manager to the Austral Cycle Agency, Melbourne, whose advertisements appeared in Cycling News, Sportsman, the Bulletin and other popular magazines.

Briefly engaged in producing posters with Norman and Lionel Lindsay and Harry Weston, Young became prominent as a poster artist. He next began to paint large watercolour scenes of Melbourne’s pioneering days, among them the printing of the first newspaper, the first christening and Lady Jane Franklin’s reception at Fawkner’s hotel. Abandoning such work about 1906, he then attempted to communicate his reaction to the Australian landscape in an imaginative way, for he believed the gulf between the European artist and his Australian subject to be so great that to depict the landscape realistically was an empty exercise.

His first one-man show in Melbourne in 1909 was followed by others in Melbourne (1910), Adelaide and Melbourne (1911) and Sydney and Melbourne (1912). When he left for England in December 1912, Young was well known in the Australian art world: His watercolours hung in several State galleries and he had exhibited with the Victorian Artists’ Society, the Society of Artists, Sydney, the Royal Art Society of New South Wales and the Royal South Australian Society of Arts. A member of the T-Square Club, he had attended meetings of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and designed layouts for its Journal.

After eighteen months in Sussex preparing for an exhibition, which was cancelled by the outbreak of World War I, early in 1915 Young joined the British Army as an instructor in musketry; in 1917 he completed Landscape Target Practises for Miniature Rifle Shooting. He exhibited with the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and other groups. In 1920 he held a large exhibition in London and was invited to provide miniatures for Queen Mary’s dolls house.

Having maintained contact through several exhibitions held in Melbourne in 1920-21, Young returned there in 1923. “The Art of Blamire Young” had been published as a special number of Art in Australia (1921), its text echoing his articles in “Drawing and Design” (London, 1919-20) and his unpublished “Autobiographical Sketch” written in 1920. Securely established, he was recognized everywhere as one of the leading artists in watercolour in Australia. He showed regularly in most capital cities and was in demand for lectures and after-dinner speeches; a connoisseur of wine, he was also a member of the National Rose Society of Victoria.

Young was a voluminous writer and an astute critic: He had contributed to the ‘Argus’ in 1904-12 and sent articles and drawings to journals such as the ‘Lone Hand’. One of his plays, “The Children’s Bread”, was performed in Melbourne in December 1911. He published “The Proverbs of Goya” in 1923 and produced “Adventures in Paint”, a hand-written book with twenty-seven original watercolours in 1924. As art critic for the Melbourne Herald in 1929-34, he wrote over 400 articles.

Young cannot be identified with either the modernist developments or the conservative academic establishment of the 1920s and 1930s in Melbourne. He was responsive to a range of art, he campaigned for what he considered ‘modern art’, but remained friendly with conservatives like Bob Croll, Harold Herbert, Hans Heysen and Lionel Lindsay. While reviewing traditional artists appreciatively, he remained critical of attempts to emulate the early works of Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, and deplored the effect on students of Bernard Hall and Max Meldrum. He welcomed the work of Margaret Preston, Arnold Shore, Rah Fizelle, Ola Cohn, Eric Thake, Ethel Spowers and J. K. Moore, yet warned against sacrificing conviction for fashion. Blamire Young died on 14 January 1935 at his Lilydale home and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife and two daughters survived him.

The watercolour above is his "The Argyle Cut" of 1890. It is characteristic of his early style, before he started to experiment with a looser, more transparent use of colour and freedom of form (for example, "Repairing the Viaduct" of 1922-24).


  1. Love this painting of the Rocks. Does not look like this now.
    So much of colonial Sydney has been destroyed and demolished replaced with frightful modern concrete cubes...heartbreaking.! This painting reminds me of how very British the early colony was. Oliver Sacks on seeing Paddington for the first time described it as Whitechapel in the tropics.

    1. So true, Rall. We are seeing rapid development in Melbourne at the moment and it's not pretty...