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Julian Ashton (1851-1942)
The Awakening 1902
oil on canvas
104.2 x 154.8 cm
Gift of the Artist 1942


Born 1851, Surrey, England. Died 1942, Sydney.

Julian Ashton was the son of a wealthy American, Thomas Briggs Ashton and his wife Henrietta, daughter of Count Carlo Rossi, a Sardinian diplomat. In London at the age of fifteen he worked in civil engineering for the Great Eastern Railway while taking art classes at night. He became a successful illustrator in London and Paris before moving to Australia in 1878.

First staying in Melbourne, Ashton came to Sydney in 1938 for a short visit that lasted a lifetime. He worked as an illustrator for several publications, including The Bulletin and the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia. In 1906 he established the Sydney Art School, later named the Julian Ashton Art School, which was to dominate artistic circles in Sydney for over fifty years. George Lambert, Elioth Gruner, Jesse Jewhurst Hilder, Thea Proctor and William Dobell were all his students. He was known for his enthusiasm and energy, extending his influence through lecturing and writing articles for Art in Australia. He claimed to have painted the first plein air painting in Australia with his Victorian landscape Evening Merri Creek 1882.

Inspired by his friend Howard Hinton's generosity, this large work titled The Awakening was donated to the Armidale Teachers' College by the artist in 1942, and hung over the western stairs at the College. It had been part of the well-received exhibition showcasing the talents of the Ashton family 'Three Generations of Artists 1938' with works by Julian, his son Howard and grandson Richard. In this work the female figure in bed has been startled from sleep by a noise. She is dramatically lit by lamplight from the right, with the rest of the composition very dark. Her loose night gown is falling off her shoulder as she grips the pillow and raises her other hand in anticipation. Ashton has skillfully rendered the texture, striking light and shadows of the white bed clothes, pillows and nightgown in browns, blues, greens and pinks.