Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

F W Boreham On Art

F W Boreham on Art

"In the years ahead of them they will be tempted to smile disdainfully upon the days when they loitered in Art galleries and wasted time in doing nothing...."
F.W. Boreham The Nest of Spears

The Eyes Have It
Throughout his writings F.W. Boreham displayed a rare ability to paint with words a breathtaking scene or a colourful cameo. Such a gift was nurtured when from an early age his home and many of the places he visited were adorned with pictures. When recalling his childhood days he referred to "the strange pictures on the wall"[1] of his grandfather's home or the influence of Canon Hoare at Tunbridge Wells and the story he told him about a picture.[2]

A Very Valuable Picture
As a student at school Frank Boreham was never as happy as when he had a pen in his hand but although he took courses in model drawing and freehand he once wrote, "drawing was a perfect bugbear to me."[3] While he admitted to a lack of talent and enjoyment of drawing this did not curtail his attempts for on one occasion when he was preparing to speak in a English chapel on the missionary Robert Moffatt, it occurred to him that a picture might be a marvellous supplement to his lecture. After drawing a life-size portrait from a small engraving he went to the country chapel and hung his masterpiece above the pulpit. After surveying the finished work with pride he encountered a young lady who's artistic taste he admired. He told her about his forthcoming lecture and begged her to examine his illustration and give her opinion. Boreham takes up the story:

'It should,' she observed thoughtfully, 'be a very valuable picture!'
This completely took my breath away. I had fondly hoped that, with characteristic courtesy- and charity- she might perhaps say that it would answer its purpose; but 'a very valuable picture!' I had never dreamed of so dazzling a bouquet.
'And may I ask,' I resumed, in the moment of my elation, 'why you think it so valuable?'
'Well, you see,' she replied, with a charming smile, 'you happen this evening to be lecturing on Robert Moffatt. But, in days to come, you may find yourself lecturing on other men; and that, she continued, glancing at my picture, 'would fit any conceivable occasion!'
I felt that no punishment could be too severe for a young lady who could be guilty of such cold-blooded cruelty. So, later on, I married her.'[4]

While this may have been the last time Boreham used his own paintings to illustrate his addresses, in Hobart he gave Sunday night lectures in the Town Hall equipped with slides and his magic lantern talks were much loved. The use of paintings as a frontispiece in many of his books are further evidence of his love and appreciation of art.[5]

Holes in the Walls
For F.W. Boreham, paintings could serve as an 'escape.' Often when sitting in his home he would gaze at the water-colour of New Zealand's Piripiki Gorge, a favourite Boreham holiday resort. Explaining the 'excursions' he would take from his armchair he said:
'On a winter's night, when the rain is lashing against the windows and the wind shrieking round the house, I glance up at it, and by some magic transition, I am roaming on a summers evening over the old familiar hills with my gun in my hand and John Broadbanks by my side.'[6]

Through the medium of paintings Boreham's mind would be transported 'to other days and other places' and his room would be transformed 'into an observatory... to survey the entire universe.'[7] Developing the theme further Boreham writes:
'A picture on the wall is like a window- only more so!...a picture is an opening into infinity...By means of the pictures I cut holes in the walls and look out upon any landscape that takes my fancy. And when evening comes, I draw the blinds, illumine the room from within, and the panorama that has so delighted me in the day-time reveals fresh charms in the softer radiance of the lamps. We all owe more to pictures than we ever yet begun to suspect.'[8]

Sauntering Among the Pictures
While on holiday F.W. Boreham found it hard to go past an art gallery, in the course of his regular activities he made a habit of frequently visiting the local art gallery. Friday afternoon was his usual time for this pursuit when he lived in Melbourne but he once confessed to snatching other times to satisfy his pleasure:
'Drizzle, drizzle, drizzle; drip, drip, drip; the city was at its worst; and I had nearly an hour to wait between the close of one committee-meeting and the opening of another. I took the tram up to the Art Gallery, and was soon lost to the world and its weather in the contemplation of a painting...'[9]

F.W. Boreham recognised some similarity between artists of the palette, the pen and the pulpit. Taking inspiration from John Constable who painted the English countryside the way it looked rather than the way it ought to look, Boreham urged painters of words to follow in this honest tradition- "Let no preacher preach in such a certain way simply because [the preacher] fancies that it is in that particular way that preachers are expected to preach!"[10] Driving the point home Boreham stated that preaching and writing are no less individualistic expressions than painting and he reassured such artists that they have a unique way of seeing God and the world and that each "must therefore paint or preach or pray or write as nobody else does." This call to be oneself is a constant theme in the writings of F.W. Boreham and the expression of one's "naked and transparent means of...palette...pulpit or...pen" is according to Boreham, a vital key to the communication of truth.[11]

Beauty in Every Daily Ditch
F.W. Boreham greatly admired the art of Joseph Turner who painted everyday objects and scenes that to many appeared to lack beauty or any striking features.[12] Boreham believed that such a gift enabled people to recognise "that there is a wealth of comeliness lurking in sordid and mundane objects that had hitherto appeared to them to be utterly prosaic and almost disgustingly commonplace."[13] It is interesting that much of F.W. Boreham's popularity was widely attributed to this same contribution of Turner to art and that of Dickens to literature- the ability "to prove that lots of things are exquisitely beautiful whose beauty had been cunningly camouflaged"[14] and to inspire people to know "that if beauty lurked in such things, it might be found in any one of a million places in which it had never occurred to them to look for it."[15] The writing and preaching of F.W. Boreham illustrate the dictum of the naturalist Richard Jeffries who said "that, if a [person] carries a sense of beauty in [their] eye, [they] will see beauty in every daily ditch [they pass."[16]

A Perfect Riot of Pastel Shades
The writings of F.W. Boreham reveal the kaleidoscope of emotions that many paintings evoked within him. His delight in humour and his appreciation of the skill of cartoonists found expression in his article, The Gentle Art of Ridicule.[17] Frequently he spoke of standing in a gallery and being moved to admiration or courage.[18] When writing of the sadness conveyed through the Australian painting representing the return of the explorers Burke and Wills to the deserted camp at Cooper's Creek and McCubbins's picture of 'The Pioneer' Boreham asked, "Why are the saddest pictures the greatest favourites?[19] He believed "from pictures of pain that a pain-racked world derives comfort and courage"[20] Moreover, he asserted that in war time or "in days when the nerves are overwrought and the emotions overcharged, [art] has a special mission and relief."[21]

Boreham Favourites
The books and articles of F.W. Boreham refer to paintings in the Dreadnought Ranges (NZ), the Melbourne Art Gallery, the Sydney Art Gallery and the Geelong Art Gallery. It may reflect Boreham's taste and possibly the holdings of the galleries he visited when one realises that most of the paintings he refers to are the works of British and Australian artists and that there is a noticeable absence of French impressionist painters. While not always on display, the many paintings in the Melbourne Gallery (now held in the National Gallery of Victoria) which Boreham cites in his books include the following (with page references to first editions):
A. Boyd Waiting for the Tide The Tide Comes In, p.103 (This is temporarily held in the State Library of Victoria)
E. Burne-Jones Ascension A Late Lark Singing, p. 96.
J. Constable (Several) I Forgot to Say, p.126.
The Last Milestone p.29.
F.Dicksee The Crisis The Tuft of Comet's Hair, p201.
T. Faed The Mitherless Bairn The Fiery Crags, p.114.
St. George Hare The Victory of Faith A Late Lark Singing p.178-179.
See this on <>
J. Longstaff Burke & Wills et al The Three Half-Moons, p.235.
Wisps Of Wildfire, p.37.
F. McCubbin The Pioneer The Other Side of the Hill, p.31.
Mountains in the Mist, p.75-80.
The Prodigal, p.9.
J. Pettie Challenged A Witch's Brewing, p.89.
G.T. Pinwell Out of Tune The Golden Milestone p.258.
A.T.A. Schenck Anguish Mountains in the Mist, p.191.
F. Tattegrain The Convalescent I Forgot to Say, p.104
J. Turner (Several cited) The Drums of the Dawn, p.239
The Blue Flame, p.174
The Last Milestone, p.29.
G.F.Watts Hope The Ivory Spires, p.83
The Three Half-Moons, p.85
C. Whymper ..Vulture's Eye.. The Blue Flame, p.2,8.
D.Wilkie (Several cited) The Ivory Spires, p.11

Geoff Pound

[1] F.W. Boreham, My Pilgrimage, p22.
[2] F.W. Boreham, Bunch of Everlastings, p218.
[3] F.W. Boreham, My Pilgrimage, p37.
[4] F.W. Boreham, My Pilgrimage, p37-39.
[5] Among these are The Golden Milestone, The Other Side of the Hill and Faces in the Fire.
[6] F.W. Boreham, Rubble and Roseleaves, p227-228.
[7] Ibid, p228.
[8] Ibid, p229.
[9] F.W. Boreham, A Tuft of Comet's Hair, p101
[10] F.W. Boreham, I Forgot to Say, p.132
[11]Ibid. p132.
[12] A good example of this is Turner's painting, Rain, Steam and Speed.
[13] F.W. Boreham, The Drums of Dawn, p.239.
[14] F.W. Boreham, The Last Milestone, p.29.
[15] Ibid., p.29.
[16] Ibid., p.29.
[17] F.W. Boreham, Ships of Pearl, p.203
[18] For examples see The Passing of John Broadbanks, p.130; The Other Side of the Hill, p.31
[19] F.W. Boreham, The Other Side of the Hill, p.31.
[20] Ibid, p.38.
[21] Ibid, p.30.