Collection of art treasures found as family clears estate

WENDY WILLIAMS explores an uncovered treasure trove of paintings dating back 80 years.


IT WAS a hidden treasure trove that had laid buried for almost 80 years.

The Pridgeon family knew their late grandfather T.R. (Thomas Read) Pridgeon had been an artist but they had no idea how prolific he had been or how many of his works were still waiting to be discovered.

When their uncle Stan died two years ago, the family began the long process of sifting through the family home in Maryborough; what they found was a spectacular collection of T.R. Pridgeon's paintings that have now been put on display in an exhibition at the Central Goldfields Gallery .

Sally Pridgeon, granddaughter of the artist, said it had been a thrilling journey of discovery for the family.

“I didn’t know my grandfather as he died in 1942, well before I was born, but I grew up with some of his paintings in my family home,” she said.

“We were always aware the art was there and that my grandfather was an artist, known for his watercolour paintings.What we didn’t know was how many paintings there were.

“My uncle’s house was originally the family home. He never married. I suppose as people get old, they live in smaller spaces and so he closed off areas of the house. 

"He was a private man. We used to visit him regularly and we had a good relationship but we couldn’t demand to see the house.

“When he passed away two years ago we began the task of sorting through everything. 

"He was a significant hoarder. There were a lot of milk cartons and things.

“In the corner of the living room behind a stack of boxes we discovered nine beautiful oil paintings. The house was full of treasures.”

The discovery of the paintings was just the beginning. The family then embarked on a two-year quest to bring the works to light.

“It was hard work,” Ms Pridgeon said.

“All the watercolours had to be remounted and some needed restoration. It was much more difficult and time consuming than just putting on an exhibition of new works.

“It is his life’s work and as an artist he was very prolific.

“It felt like the time was right and something had to be done to honour the memory of my grandfather as a significant artist.”

T.R. Pridgeon, studied art at the Ballarat School of Mines and went on to teach at Maryborough Technical College during the first half of the 20th century.

His work mainly depicts the central Victorian landscape as it was almost 100 years ago. 

Former student Beth Wood, coincidentally Ms Pridgeon’s mother, said she had fond memories of him.

“I remember him vividly,” she said.

“I came into the tech school when I was 11 years old and Mr Pridgeon was the art teacher. He was quiet but he was a very good teacher.

“There were 30 girls in the class and I often think now how difficult it must have been for him. But he really knew what he was doing.

“It is quite obvious he was a very clever artist but I wasn’t of an age to really appreciate his art, although I knew he was a very special teacher.

“I later married his eldest son. If he had lived another nine or 10 years he would have been my father-in-law but that didn’t happen.

 “It is quite thrilling to see the works.

“When we opened up one room the walls were covered in paintings all around the room. It was amazing. The number of paintings is staggering.

“I own some of his paintings. They are very old. They were painted 80 years ago.”

In a fascinating discovery the town has also found T.R. Pridgeon's own Sistine Chapel, after a link has emerged between the artist and paintings on the ceiling of the town hall that have recently been uncovered.

An exhibition, featuring 88 of his works, runs until March 9. 

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