Historical information

This mounted and framed photograph of a group of friends punting on the River Yarra has a number of historic and artistic associations.

The photograph is primarily important as an informal photograph of the Australian baritone John Donald Mackenzie Brownlee (1900-1969), whose international career at the world's major opera houses from 1927 until his retirement in 1958 included singing at Melba's Covent Garden farewell in 1926, to recordings in the 1930s of a major series of Mozart operas in Glyndebourne Festival productions, conducted by Fritz Busch. Brownlee, born in Geelong, won the gold medal as champion vocalist at the South Street competitions in Ballarat in 1921. Moving to Paris in 1923 he began study with the French baritone, Dinh Gilly, making his operatic debut at the Trianon Lyrique in Montmartre in 1926. The most significant periods of his operatic career were with the Paris Opera from 1927 to 1936, and at the Metropolitan Opera from 1937 to 1957. After his move to Paris in 1923, he is recorded as revisiting Australia in 1928 as a member of the Melba-Williamson Company, and 24 years later in 1952. The photograph of Brownlee and the Gardners in a punt on the Yarra, while putatively dated to 1925, must be from earlier in the 1920s before his move to Paris, or later during the Melba-Williamson Company season. Before his move to Paris in 1923, Brownlee had lived in Belmont Avenue, Kew, where he must have developed a friendship with the Gardners.

The photograph has additional artistic significance as it was produced at 'The Artorium', James Beament's design studio next to the Hawthorn Town Hall at 362 Burwood Road. With a home at 33 Uvadale Road (designed by Eric Nicholls, who managed the architectural practice of Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Grifffin from 1924 to 1932), Beament painted a number of significant murals for the Griffin practice, including those at the Capitol Theatre in Melbourne.


A photograph of recreational activities on the River Yarra. The photograph is historically significant as a professionally produced photograph of the Australian operatic baritone John Brownlee, either before his move to Paris in 1923, or in 1928 during the Melba-Williamson Company operatic tour of Australia. The photograph has additional aesthetic significance as it was produced in James Beament's Hawthorn Studio - The Artorium - at 362 Burwood Road, next to the Hawthorn Town Hall.

Physical description

Framed photograph of John Duncan Brownlee, the Australian tenor, with Enid Gardner and friend in a punt on the Yarra River. Brownlee was born in Geelong but before his move to Paris in 1923, he lived for a period in Belmont Avenue, Kew.

Inscriptions & markings

Three labels on reverse.
1. "John Duncan Brownlee, Operatic Star, originally of Geelong later resident of Kew at Belmont Av, on the pole. Also in the punt - Edith Gardner a friend. The Gardners lived on the east corner of Edgevale Rd. & Cotham. Approx. 1925."
2. "This picture is the property of Kew Historical Society 1/4/79".
3. Tel. Hawthorn 842 THE ARTORIUM ...."