Gladstone Eyre, portraitist and landscape painter, was born 11 June 1862 in Brunswick, Victoria. His name was registered as William James Gladstone Eyre and he was the third child of William Eyre and Amelia née Watts. Arthur Eyre, Gladstone’s eldest brother enrolled at Scotch College, Melbourne, in 1868 where Henricus Leonardus van den Houten taught. Gladstone Eyre studied elementary drawing under van den Houten.
The Eyre Family moved to Sydney, New South Wales, in 1877 where Gladstone Eyre studied under Knud Bull. William Eyre began to promote his son’s artistic talents by writing to important politicians and church leaders of the colony seeking their advice on how he might develop as an artist. Not surprisingly, they suggested study at art schools in London, Rome or Paris. Regardless, Gladstone Eyre remained in Sydney and established himself as a portrait painter throughout the 1880s. His subjects included Reverend Dr Vaughan, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney; Dr Barker, Anglican Bishop of Sydney; Mr W S Lyster, supporter of the opera; Sir John Robinson, Governor of the Colony of New South Wales; Thomas Walker, President of the Bank of New South Wales; Cardinal Moran; J T Gannon, President of the Goulburn Mechanics Institute; and Sir Henry Parkes, Chief Secretary of New South Wales.
In January 1882 the Duke of Manchester presented Eyre with a pair of early English silver candlesticks in recognition of his splendid portrait of the Duke. Eyre became a member of the Art Society of New South Wales in 1883 and in the same year exhibited a life-size, three-quarter figure of Mrs Lillie Langtry. He also painted portraits of the Earl of Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli) and the Right Hon William E Gladstone. Eyre married Margaret Ross Falconer on 26 June 1883 at St James Church, Sydney.
Eyre exhibited a portrait of Cardinal Moran at the Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888 and was awarded a Third Order of Merit. River scenes in New South Wales, usually in watercolour, were painted by Eyre as were scenes of Sydney Harbour. Titles include Sydney Harbour looking towards the Heads, Sydney Harbour from Cremorne Point, Sydney Skyline from Hungry Bay, and Sydney Harbour from Rose Bay.
The Blue Mountains, near Katoomba west of Sydney, were of special interest to Eyre. His father was a land developer who promoted the establishment of the township of Leura and Eyre had considerable land holdings in the area. Titles of his mountain paintings include Gordon Falls, Blue Mountains, NSW; The Megalong Valley; The Three Sisters; and Jamieson Valley. Some of Eyre’s Blue Mountains paintings were exhibited at the Hydro-Majestic picture gallery at Medlow Bath.
In 1891 Eyre moved to Launceston, Tasmania, with his family under engagement to Mr R J Nicholas, photographer of St John Street. His paintings were displayed regularly in the shop front of this studio. Four of his portraits of local dignitaries (Mr S J Sutton, Mayor of Launceston; Mrs Sutton; Mr George Horne, Manager of the National Bank; and Mons. Jules Joubert) were the centrepiece of the Tasmanian Court at the 1891-92 Tasmanian International Exhibition in Launceston. Other portraits included those of Archbishop Murphy of Launceston, Hon G T Collins, and Sir Lambert Dobson, Chief Justice of Tasmania.
Throughout the 1890s Eyre painted landscapes of Tasmania in oils, crayon and watercolours from life and photographs. His Launceston scenes (Cataract Gorge in Flood; Shadows of the Evening; Sunset in the First Basin; and Lingering Autumn) elicited commendation from contemporary art critics in the city both for their aesthetic qualities and fidelity to nature. In evening classes he taught 'finishing students and beginners’ in the art of drawing, painting and outdoor sketching at his studio in St John Street, where he also undertook the restoration of old paintings. Regular sales of his works were held in Launceston. He also exhibited at the 1893 Tasmanian Juvenile Industrial Exhibition in Launceston.
Fundraising concerts and plays were a feature of Launceston social life in the late 1890s. Eyre’s daughter Winifred performed in numerous productions in aid of the Academy of Music, The Early Closing Association, St Patrick’s Day Anniversary Association and the Indian Famine Fund. Not only did Eyre recite and sing in these productions, he also painted the backdrop scenery which was noted in newspaper reviews.
Eyre and his family returned to Sydney in 1902 and resided at 56 Middle Street, North Sydney until his death in 1933. He travelled and painted landscapes in many parts of New South Wales. In 1903 and 1904 he visited Wagga Wagga and received a Complementary Member’s Ticket from the Murrumbidgee Pastoral and Agricultural Association. He joined the renamed Royal Art Society of New South Wales in 1904. Eyre painted a series of watercolours of bushfires and of rural pioneer life typified by titles as The Round Up; The Three Drovers; Cobb and Co. Coach Outside the Stockman Hotel; Rural Landscape with Timber Wagon; and The Slab Hut. His paintings of New Zealand scenes were based on photographs.