Painter, elder brother of Daniel Altson , was a Jewish artist presumably born in England. He was in Melbourne by 1883 when he became a member of the Buonarotti Club, evidently while a student at the NGV School. At the distribution of prizes for the work of students at the Melbourne National Gallery School in 1889, Alston was awarded first prize for the best portrait or figure painting … 'but having gained it the previous year, he was disqualified’ ( Illustrated Sydney News , 28 November 1889). Referring to the successful sale of works exhibited in the annual [student] exhibition, the article claimed 'the highest price given being £120 to Mr Alston, for his gold medal picture entitled “Flood Suffering”’ ( Illustrated Sydney News , 6 December 1890). In 1890 he was awarded the NGV Travelling Scholarship. He went to Paris the following year and spent the rest of his life overseas.

In 1895, in an article headed 'National Art Gallery – The Interchange Question’, the SMH stated: 'Messrs Du Faur and Ashton hope that the inclusion of one or more of the diploma pictures in the Sydney loan collection may stimulate the NSW Governors to similar munificence … The works of Mr Longstaff and Mr Alston (ex-prizemen) [are] at the Sydney Art Gallery’ ( Sydney Morning Herald 15 October 1895). Writing about the Third Loan Interchange from the NGV to the NAGNSW in 1896, the SMH again mentioned the inclusion of '...the extra two painted under the terms of the travelling scholarship of £150 a year for three years, awarded to the best student of the year at the Victorian Art Gallery schools … the two works referred to have been forwarded here to stimulate interest in the scheme … The other Scholarship painting is a copy by Aby Allston [sic] of Van Dyck’s “Portrait of a Lady and Her Daughter”, the original of which hangs in the Louvre’ ( Sydney Morning Herald 24 April 1896).

The present holder of the Melbourne [Travelling] Scholarship – Mr. Alston, a Colarossi student and a pupil of Courtois – sends to the salon a picture entitled “Echoes” and a clever portrait of Mr Mackennal’s little daughter in a yellow gauze dress and necklace of ambers ( Illustrated Sydney News , 4 June 1892).

Mr Alston’s “Echoes” is “skied” in the Paris Salon and hangs next to Mr Bunny 's “Dorothea” – it is described as “wanting in originality; the drawing of the semi-nude figure is also bad”’ ( Illustrated Sydney News , 18 June 1892).

We learn by cable that several Victorian artists are represented at this year’s exhibitions in London and Paris. Mr J. Longstaff ... and Mr Robinson ... Mr A. Alston, of Melbourne, sent a picture, “The Golden Age” ( Sydney Morning Herald 12 May 1894).

See also R.J. Slade, 'An Australian Quartette’, Magazine of Art 1895, 389. A small symbolist painting dated 1897, Fantasy – Angel Drawing the Cloth of Night (Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth: ill. Catalogue 2000, no. 62, p.75), was done when he was living in Kensington, London.

'Abe Alston, the artist, who won the Victorian travelling some years ago, is making a name in London for his black and white work, which adorns the page of Pearson’s Magazine and the Pall Mall Magazine ', noted the Bulletin on 11 April 1896. On 19 February 1898 it reiterated that:

Abbey Alston … had scored a solid success with high toned colour work in Pearson’s Magazine [for December] illustrating Lewis Morris’s song “To Venus, the Evening Star”. There are 4 illustrations very “decorative”, yet artistically sane in sentiment, the faces being evidently drawn from models of the Morris-Alston persuasion. The pictures so impressed one of the proprietors of Pearson’s that he promptly gave the artist an £800 order to paint frescoes at his townhouse, and when a talented Hebrew gets fairly into a golden swim, he remains there evermore, as a rule. If Abbey Alston wants to draw a big income, he can get the finest possible models from among the chosen’ ( Bulletin 19 February 1898).

…The history of Abbey Alston’s “The Golden Age” (which he painted for the Victorian Art Gallery in fulfillment of the Travelling Scholarship obligation) is given in Pearson’s Magazine . Young Alston, like Longstaff before him, was terribly anxious to do justice to the Scholarship. No subject seemed big enough to him. Finally he decided upon the creation of Arcadia, a beautifully yellow and impossible place where girls are happy all day long and wear no clothes. Alston being in France at this time, thought that the Isle de Noirmontier was the best place he could strike for Arcadian atmosphere and sentiment. So he took some girl models with him and himself with the spirit of the Island, and put such a lot of time and expense into the picture that when it was finished he was a “dead broker” ( Bulletin 8 October 1898). Alston’s undated oil 'marble painting’ Clarisse (a typical and mediocre Roman female portrait though a rare example of the genre by an Australian) was in Christie’s sale of the estate of Frederick D. Bladin at Melbourne, 2 April 2003 (lot 50, est. $7,000-$12,000). Bladin acquired it from Willis, Hudson & Co. of Sheffield, England.

Alston’s portraits of Mr & Mrs S. Solomon in black and white crayon were auctioned at Sotheby’s on 25 October 1985, lot 142.

Staff Writer
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