Mr Feltons Bequest
written by John Poynter
Miegunyah Press | ISBN 9780522855524
Hardback – 664 pages
Member’s price: $80.96
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Alfred Felton, a bachelor of definite opinions and benignly eccentric habits, was one of the remarkable group of Melbourne merchants who dominated the economy of the Australian colonies in the decades after the gold rush. In 1904 he left his substantial fortune in trust, the income to be spent by a committee of his friends, half on charities (especially for women and children), and half on works of art for the National Gallery of Victoria, works calculated to raise and improve public taste. The Gallery suddenly gained acquisition funds greater than those of London's National and Tate galleries combined, and between 1904 and 2004 more than 15,000 items were purchased for it by the Felton Bequest.
How the Felton Bequests Committee carried out its tasks, in cooperation and sometimes in conflict with the Trustees of the Gallery, is a human story of many triumphs and occasional follies, of decisions made and unmade amid changing notions of art, philanthropy and public taste. John Poynter's account of Felton's life and the story of his Bequests covers most of Melbourne's history, from the unusual view point of three themes: business, art and charity.