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Sydney Long

An Early Australian Artist

Sydney Long was born August 20, 1871 [1] in Goulburn. Known in his family as Sid, there are no known records of his father James Long who is entered on Sid’s birth certificate as an Irish Tax Commission Agent and was supposed to have died in February 1871. Sid’s brother James Washington born 1866 [2] is also recorded as the child of James Long, Irish Tax Commission Agent. In later records John Leslie Long a native born Australian carrier is given as James Washington and Sid’s father [3]. John Leslie Long was the father of four of Susannah’s children, Eliza, Henrietta, John and Francis and died on 30 October 1867 [4].

When Sid was four years old Susannah married Charles Fallick [5] who worked at the local goal. Charles only lived a year and leaving Susannah with a sickly baby George who spent most of his life in care in Newcastle. Life was tough for the young family and Susannah ran a boarding house to support the family.

Sid didn’t have good memories of growing up in Goulburn where he was educated. However Sid showed an early interest in Art and told the story his first art prize was at the Goulburn Show for a map drawing. As a young teenager Sid moved to Sydney where he found employment working for a wine and spirit agent. Eventually Sid was accepted as a student by Alfred James Daplin an English artist working in the Rocks area. His partner was Julian Ashton who eventually took over the Art School.

While a student at Ashton’s Sid painted what was to be eventually a series of idylls and decorative pastoral paintings By Tranquil Waters. It was exhibited in the annual exhibition of the Art Society of New South Wales in 1894 and was purchased by the Trustees of the Sydney Art Gallery. The painting attracted a lot of attention and was criticized for the eroticism of boys bathing naked in the river, which was a common practice in country New South Wales. [6] The publicity did no harm to Sid’s career, though it may have made him a little more withdrawn. Sid was very short and of elfin appearance and constantly wore a top hat to compensate for his lack of stature.

Alfred Dalpin had moved on and Julian Ashton took over the studio and from 1908 Sid Long worked for him as a tutor and eventually as a partner. Sid Long was a member of the first council of the Society of Artists in Sydney and president from 1898 to 1901. He was also a fellow of the council of the Royal Art Society, director of its school, and a trustee of the New South Wales Art Gallery.

Sid’s great longing was to go to London as most of his fellow artists did. A lack of money was to hamper this dream for ten years. In this period he also became engaged to a fellow student Thea Proctor for a short time but nothing came of it. By 1910 Sid was able to gather enough money to sail for London and fulfill his dream to exhibit at the Royal Academy and other major exhibitions.

Shortly after arriving in London Sid met a ballet dancer at Convent Garden, Katherine Brennan and from then on they lived as man and wife though they did not marry until 1922. Katherine and Sid had very different interests and she didn’t care for his bohemian friends. In spite of their different interests and Katherine’s ill-health the relationship lasted. Katherine took a great interest in animal welfare in her later years.

After World War 1 Sid returned to Sydney for a visit returning briefly to London to pack up and formally marry Katherine and move back to Sydney.

Sid was quite successful in the Sydney art scene — his paintings and etchings figured prominently in exhibitions from the 1920s to the 1940s. Sid won the prestigious Wynn Landscape Prize twice in 1938 and 1940. His work was highly regarded and imparted the imaginative note to Australian landscape, his painting Spirit of the Plains being one of the best known works of the period.

For a while Sid settled in retirement at East Gordon near fellow artist Benjamin Edward Minns who helped him establish a garden. In March 1951 Sid and Katherine left Australia for the last time. Despite his previous public success, fashion had changed and his work became passé, so by the 1950s he had become an isolated figure in the art world. Most of his friends had died and there were new tastes and ideas. Sid struggled to make a living; producing endless copies of his etchings especially the ever popular Spirit of the Plains. With one dental bill Sid paid for it with a painting [7]. Sid didn’t wish to be an artist in isolation in Sydney, and Katherine wished to return to her own country so they said goodbye to Australia.

Sydney Long died on 23 January 1955 [8] in London and is buried in Streatham Cemetery, London.

This story is based on my own research and family stories. My first story of Sydney Long I wrote in 1996 for the Jane Langley Descendants Association, Sid’s great grandmother. They have since written a more comprehensive story which I have chosen neither to read nor include in my story.


Material I have read and used:

random Google hits
North Shore Sydney by Les G Thorne 1958
Australian Painters by James Gleeson
The Life and Work of Sydney Long by Joanne Menelssohn
[1] Sydney Long NSW BDM:10427/1871 born Goulburn
[2] James Washington Long NSW BDM: 6530/1866 born Parramatta
[3] Susannah Fallick’s death certificate NSW BDM: 2074/1908 died Dulwich Hill
[4] John Leslie Long NSW BDM: 4558/1867 Tabourie Lake buried Moruya
[5] Charles Major Fallick NSW BDM: 2570/1875 Goulburn
[6] My father-in-law told me they often stripped off and had a dip in the creek on the way home from school on a hot afternoon in Mudgee.
[7] The painting is still in the possession of the dentist’s family, I am told.
[8] England & Wales Death Index: 1916-2005 Vol. 5d. page 946

Margaret Hardwick, 2012

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