Many of you have no doubt seen the postcards of Douglas Pratt at our postcard fairs when browsing through card boxes in your search for interesting topographicals of early Sydney.
His postcards may not appeal to the “purist” collector of old postcards or the historical researcher, but I would suggest that you do not ignore them, as they do present a picture of a city which has changed dramatically since his works appeared.
Douglas Fieldew Pratt was born in Katoomba, NSW, in 1900 at the manse of the Congregational Church, his father, the Rev.F.V.Pratt, being the resident minister. The family moved to Angaston, SA, in 1907.
His first job was as a jackeroo on a country property near Singleton, NSW. It was here that he probably developed his love and affinity with the landscape.
Moving on to Sydney he became a licensed surveyor in 1922 and married Phyllis Clark the following year. Later, in 1925, he worked as a detail surveyor for the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage & Drainage Board. A colleague at the MWS & DB, having seen some of his sketches, suggested he should develop his drawing and painting talents.
Selling some of his paintings that same year encouraged him to study at the Royal Art Society’s drawing classes and at Sydney Long’s Etching School. His artwork covered all mediums – oils, watercolour, pencil, etchings.
His first exhibition was held at the Macquarie Galleries, Bligh Street, Sydney in 1928. This was followed by exhibitions of his etchings and pencil drawings throughout Australia. Sydney, Melbourne and Perth have his works hung in their art galleries.
During World War II, he served in the Australian Army (War Graves), serving in New Guinea; he attained the rank of captain.
In 1953, he was appointed to the Commwealth Art Advisory Board, Canberra and served as a member until his death in 1972: he was awarded an OBE for this work. He also served as Vice-President of the Royal Art Society of NSW, of which he was a member for more than 20 years.
Sir William Dargie wrote Pratt’s biography ‘ The Australian Artist Douglas Pratt’ “by order (request?) of the artist’s family”: it was published in 1975. There appears to be little other documention of his life.
Although no mention of his artworks being reproduced in the form of postcards is mentioned in the biography, nor in any other articles that I have read, it would appear by the details that they were published about the 1930- 40’s. The cards present delicately drawn detailed pencil sketches, of Sydney, with his signature ‘Douglas Pratt’ in the bottom right or left hand corner. They were published by J.S.Pty.Ltd. and bear no reference numbers. The postcards are black and white letterpress production printed on inexpensive white board: size 140 x 88mm. Although most cards that I have seen have been unused, I do have two in my possession that were written on and dated 1944.
Were these postcards available to the public in card racks or were they only available at art galleries ?
Postcards noted to date are listed alphabetically as follows:
1. Archibald Fountain, Hyde Park
2. Coogee Beach, NSW
3. Farm Cove to Macquarie Street
4. Fort Denison, Sydney Harbour
5. George Street, Sydney
6. Government House, Sydney
7. Harbour Glimpses, Sydney
8. Hotel Mansions, Sydney
9. Hyde Park, Sydney
10. Hyde Park, Sydney (different to No.9)
11. Martin Place, Sydney (Note: No clock tower on the GPO. It was removed in 1942 because of WW II, and rebuilt in 1964)
12. Neilson Park, Sydney
13. Pitt Street, Sydney
14. Railway Tower, Sydney
15. St.Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney (I have also seen this in the form of a Xmas card)
16. Sydney Harbour from Elizabeth Bay
17. Sydney Harbour from Rose Bay
18. York Street and Wynyard Park, Sydney
I seem to remember seeing other postcards in the series – but that was before I started collecting them!
Postcard prices generally vary from $1 – $4, but I have seen a few dealers charging $5 and $6 !