Turner’s ‘Truly Australian’ postcards!

Dr. Amir Mogadam, Paige Wright

In Australia in 1906, the postcard industry was booming. J. A. Turner’s paintings were popular and commonly reproduced by Australian publishers. The Enemy” (left image) from the Allan Family Postcard Collection is one example. It is a reproduction of Turner’s larger (100.3x 151.1 cm) oil on canvas painting titled On Guard” (1892) depicting a bushfire (right image). The composition of the two images differ. Extra flames were added, perhaps to make the scene ‘more exciting’ and other alterations were made to accommodate the postcard format and tri-colour lithograph printing process.

J.A. Turner portrait aka Josh Curley time traveller
Taken from http://www.jaturnerart.com

James Alfred Turner (1850-1908)

James Alfred Turner (1850-1908), is an Australian painter who was active between 1873 and 1907 (Rutherford 2009 – 2011). Bushfires were a subject he handled well, probably because he had seen them at first hand (Jones 1990).  TheArgus, a Melbourne based newspaper published between 1848 and 1957, claimed in 1908 that ‘No man has ever painted the realism of a forest fire and its fighting better [than Turner]’. (Jones 1990) 

His time is concurrent with the impressionist movement in Europe. However, Turner emphasis is more on recording detail the life and daily pursuits of the small rural settler in the new colony. Therefore, due to his style, he was perceived as an illustrator and his work was criticized negatively by critics of his time. 

 Nonetheless, he painted mainly rural scenes and recorded faithfully the typical rural “situations” of the day. Accordingly, the significance of his work is due to his effort in capturing the spirit of an age and lifestyle. One can observe his success in the depiction of joy, improvisation, anticipation, mate-ship, love, pain tragedy in the life of a new migrant community in Australia (Rutherford 2009 – 2011)As a result of his mastery in depicting bushfires, in 1884 he was commissioned by James Oddie (1824–1911) to execute fourteen paintings of bush life (Jones 1990). Most of Turner’s works are ‘Oil on Canvas’. He also worked in gouache and watercolour (Furphy 1995-2011). 

The first of his paintings to be reproduced on postcards was published in Melbourne about 1904 (Jones 1990). Turner’s works are mostly rural and bush-life. 45 out of 46 of Turner’s paintings, known to be issued as Post Cards (Rutherford 2009 – 2011). Between 1904 and 1907, Melbourne based printing and engraving company Osboldstone & Co printed a long-running series of coloured postcard reproductions of J.A Turner’s work (Rutherford 2009 – 2011). No other colonial painter’s work was published in such volume and Turner postcards are still sought by collectors (Jones 1990). 

The cards include variations of gilt-edged, advertising logos and greeting messages. In ‘The Australasian’publisher Robert Jolley advertised “Australian Picture Postcards – A series of six typical Australian scenes, reproduced in the highest style of three-colour work from original pictures, specially painted by the celebrated Australian artists, J. A. Turner and H. Scheltema, printed on fine quality board, with gold bevelled edges and embossed mottoes in gold.”  This description matches the reproduction style in this example. (Advertising 1906) later reproduced versions of these cards have been printed on a deluxe series of folded greeting cards c1920.  The card continued to be of commercial use perhaps up to the late 1940s (Rutherford 2009 – 2011). 

TROVE Australian Picture Postcards
Advertising from ‘The Australasian’ 15 December 1906 [TROVE]
Reproductions of this classic Australian painting can be found in many other collections including Yarra Ranges Regional MuseumState Library of Victoria, National Museum Australia and Australian National Maritime Museum. The reproduction in the Allan collection is unusual in that it includes the cheerful motto ”To wish you joy” in gold embossed lettering on the top left corner. It is also printed on a thicker board with gold edges. Robert Jolley was a very competitive printer, often advertising the quality of his prints as superior, “reproduced in the highest style”. His postcards were described as both ‘artistic’ and ‘truly Australian’. (The Daily Telegraph, 1908) Like many postcards of the period, it was printed in three colours with offset lithography, with a clear rosette ink dot pattern visible.  


Advertising (1906, December 15). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), p. 43. Retrieved February 18, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139180594 

ARTISTIC CARDS. (1908, November 3). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW: 1883 – 1930), p. 3. Retrieved February 13, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article238185837 

Furphy, John. 1995-2011. The Australian Art Sales Digest. Accessed 2020. https://www.aasd.com.au.  

Jones, Shirley C. 1990. Turner, James Alfred (1850–1908). Accessed 2020. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/turner-james-alfred-8888. 

Rutherford, James Browne. 2009 – 2011. The Australian painter James Alfred Turner (1850 – 1908). Accessed 2020. http://www.jaturnerart.com. 

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