Charles Nuttall was commissioned by the Historical Picture Association to paint the opening of the first Federal Parliament on 9 May 1901. He was asked to paint as many recognisable faces as possible on a canvas 12 feet by 8 feet. He began work on 19 August 1901 in a studio within the Exhibition Building, and the painting was unveiled on 19 June 1902. There are 344 identifiable 'heads'.

Upon completion, the painting was sent to Paris so that it could be reproduced in photogravure by the art dealership of Goupil et Cie. It was reported in the Adelaide Register at the time that the 'reproduction will be the largest ever made on a steel plate, being 42 inches in length, and the people of Australia will thus be in possession of a faithful record, painted on the spot, of the greatest event in our national history'. The majority of prints of the painting carry the name of Goupil printed in the lower right corner below the image.

By March 1903, the painting had been shipped to London where photogravure prints were produced by 'Mr. James Greves, the well-known fine art publisher, of New Bridge street'. While in London, the painting was sent to Buckingham Palace so that it could be inspected by King Edward VII, before being exhibited in July at McLean's Gallery in the Haymarket.

Forty 'artist's proofs' were made available for £15 15s, another limited run of sixty-five proofs were made available for £10 10s. while the 'best India prints' could be bought relatively cheaply for £3 3s.

Copies of this 'realistic' painting were reproduced and hung in public buildings, state and secondary schools, libraries, friendly society lodges and in the homes of Australians nationwide. It was this image which helped keep Federation alive in the public's mind in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Description of Content

Painting by Charles Nuttall of the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament in Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building.

Physical Description

Monochrome oil painting by Charles Nuttall depicting the opening of the first Federal Parliament in the Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne, on 9 May 1901. The painting shows the interior of the Great Hall, with the assembled crowd during the ceremony. On the official dais are the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York and the Governor General, the Earl of Hopetoun and the Countess of Hopetoun. Facing the dais are the members of the first Commonwealth Parliament. There are up to 344 individual recognisable portraits within the painting. The painting has a carved wooden frame with a leaf pattern.

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