Blamire Young was born at Londesborough, Yorkshire in 1862 the second son of twelve children. His father had decided that Blamire would pursue a career in the church but much to his parents’ disappointment this vocation held no appeal for the young Cambridge graduate. Immediately after receiving his arts degree in 1884 he departed England and sailed to Australia to take up a teaching position at Katoomba College in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. He was described by J. F. Bruce as being '6’ 3” high, aesthetic, virile, uniting the Cambridge manner with the Bohemian Spirit (with) a picturesque and paradoxical personality’. Whilst at Katoomba he made the acquaintance of Phil May who tutored Young in oil painting. This chance meeting with a recognised artist encouraged Young to consider art as a serious pursuit. His love of watercolour, however, soon ensured he abandoned oils, a medium he was never comfortable using.

In 1893 he returned to England and studied under Hubert von Herkomer at his art school in Bushey, Hertfordshire. It was here he met fellow student Mabel Sawyer who was an accomplished wood carver and they married in 1895. During this period he also met James Pryde and William Nicholson who were creating innovative poster designs via their commercial partnership known as The Beggarstaffs.

Young returned to Australia with his new bride and in 1896 took up residence in Melbourne. Influenced by The Beggarstaffs he worked in the area of poster design with Norman & Lionel Lindsay and Harry Weston. Ure Smith (quoted Caban p.55), along with many others, praised his poster work. His connection with the Lindsays led to an involvement with the Victorian Artists’ Society which was to last for the rest of his life. He exhibited with the Society in 1901-07, 1912, 1931 and 1934 and was a member of Council in 1909 under the Presidency of Frederick McCubbin.

The early years in Melbourne were financially lean and it was not until 1910, at the age of 48, that his work attained the level of public recognition required for him to derive a modest income from sales. These paintings were mostly small landscapes depicting the Mount Buffalo region of Victoria described in Young’s own words 'as curious Japanese-printlike drawings’ (see Marshall p.19). They were small in scale, low in price and many were sold.

In 1911 Australia’s Postmaster-General selected the Victorian Artists’ Association to nominate an artist for the design of Australia’s first stamp. Young was commissioned to perform the task and in 1913 a red one penny stamp was issued bearing a kangaroo within a map of Australia. This design was used continuously until 1935, the year of Young’s death, and superseded the state stamps used prior to that time.

His reputation grew as a result of a number of successful one-man exhibitions in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney but by late 1912 Young’s desire to establish himself as an artist in his country of birth lured him away from Australia for a second time. He and Mabel, now with two daughters, sailed to England via the Canary Islands, Portugal, Spain and France.

By 1913 they had settled in South Downs, Sussex where Young painted for approximately 18 months, however, World War 1 interrupted his artistic ambitions and in 1915 he enlisted in the British Army as a firearms instructor. There followed a 3-4 year hiatus from full time painting and exhibiting with little artistic output during that period.

After the war he exhibited in London at the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, National Portrait Society, Fine Art Society and International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers. He also had pictures hung at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh, The Salon in Paris and Art Institute of Chicago.

Having tasted some international success Young returned to Melbourne in 1923 and lived out the remainder of his days widely regarded as one of Australia’s greatest watercolourists. Today he is represented in the collections of every major public gallery in Australia.

In late 1923 he joined a select group of fourteen eminent artists to become a foundation member of the Australian Watercolour Institute. The Institute was modelled on the Royal Watercolour Society (established 1804) and American Watercolor Society (established 1867). The impetus for its creation was the growing feeling amongst Sydney watercolourists that the existing art societies were not giving their work adequate respect and exhibition space. He exhibited with the Institute in: 1924, 1926-28, 1930 and 1932.

Young painted the very atmospheric The Chaplain (Early Days) [also known as: Convict Prison, The Old Hobart Gaol and The Prison], watercolour and gouache on paper (1930-32), which showed the prison chaplain Rev. Robert Knopwood on his white horse, Timor, in front of the building along with some aborigines and a red-coated soldier on guard in front of his sentry box. This painting was one of Young’s Early Days series, a collection of eleven works which depicted Australian colonial history of the early 19th century. Other subjects of the series included: William Buckley, John Pascoe Fawkner, Lady Franklin, John Batman and the explorers Joseph Gellibrand and George Hesse. He also drew for The Lone Hand (including the cover of 2 March 1908 featuring an Aboriginal woman).

He was sought after as a book illustrator providing colour plates for Magic Casements by Helen E. Wallace (Melbourne, 1925) and The Golden Octopus, Legends of the South Seas by Viscount Hastings (London, 1928). His talents even extended to designing ladies’ gowns and programmes for musical evenings in Toorak.

Aside from his visual art Blamire Young was also a writer. He contributed to publications such as The Argus, The Lone Hand and Art in Australia in addition to over 400 articles for The Herald (Melbourne) in his capacity as art critic. He wrote the article “Fremiet’s 'Gorilla and Woman’”, The Lone Hand 1 (June 1907), 226-29 (see Fink monograph). He wrote plays, produced a number of art related manuscripts and in 1923 published his book The Proverbs of Goya.

He died on 14 January 1935 at his home in Montrose and was buried in the local cemetery at Lilydale. He was survived by his wife, Mabel and daughters, Ida and Lalage. Writing in The Argus on 19 January 1935, the prominent art author Bob Croll paid tribute to a great Australian:

‘Again I saw the man as we knew him. Tall, erect, quiet-spoken, gentle in debate, hesitating to correct when he knew so much better, generous to a fault – had he lived one hundred years he would have died too soon. I walked with him again through the bush and saw him stoop to discuss an orchid with a small boy; I heard him discourse of the symbolism of Goya, the merits of his favourite Australian poet John Shaw Neilson, the scientific growing of roses, and a wide variety of topics; and I watched him, the perfect host, pour perfect wine into delicate glasses while he discovered to his listeners his wonderful knowledge of vintages.’

Writers:
Kerr, Joan
Stephen Marshall
Date written:
1996
Last updated:
2013