Philip W. Goatcher was born on the 23rd November 1851, in London; the son of a scene painter. He left school in his early teens to work as a law clerk at Lincoln’s Inn. In his spare time he would visit Sadler’s Wells Theatre and at work he amused himself sketching stage art. He sailed to Melbourne in 1867 and walked to the Ballarat goldfields of Victoria, during the gold rush years. He continued his drawings and Philip’s sketches attracted the attention of John Hemmings, who had worked for the Theatre Royal, and was recognized as Melbourne’s leading scene painter.
Hemmings predicted a great future for the young Goatcher as a painter, but Goatcher had itchy feet for gold and moved on to other goldfields in New Zealand and San Francisco. It was in San Francisco that he met the young J. C. Williamson, an American actor (who later became a prominent theatre director in Australia). From San Francisco, he moved to New York and Goatcher became Principal Designer at Wallack’s Theatre from 1875-1885 where he has been described as one of the finest designers of the late Victorian style.
From New York, Goatcher returned to London and painted stage sets and curtains at Drury Lane and Covent Garden and then returned to the U.S. once more where he married; had four children; and worked for many leading theatres.
His marriage did not last and Goatcher divorced in 1890 and returned once more to London with two of his elder sons. He worked for both Henry Irving and Richard D’Oyly Carte at the likes of the Savoy and enthusiastically took up J. C. Williamson’s offer to return to Australia once more – this time making him the highest paid scene painter in the world.
- Due to his success as a theatre screen painter, Goatcher was nicknamed “Satin and Velvet”. His backstage set design textile illusions painted on cloth are known as “Trompe L’œil” (trick the eye). This is a form of illusionary art, designed to deceive the viewer into believing that objects are 3-D, instead of being a 2-D art piece.
The image above is “The Bay of Naples,” a drop-canvas curtain at the Boulder-Kalgoorlie Town Hall and is believed to be the only surviving theatre curtain of this form remaining in the world. The curtain depicts a Neapolitan scene with Vesuvius in the background, surrounded by tranquil water. The curtain measures 6.25 m x 8.45m, signed and dated ‘Phil W. Goatcher’, 1908.
Apart from the West Australian example of Goatcher’s work; Melburnians from Australia’s east coast, can also appreciate his art inside one of the shops at the elaborate Block Arcade. Philip Goatcher accepted a 1000 Guineas commission to decorate the ceiling of one of the shops within this arcade; with a seraglio of amazons and cherubs, illustrating mathematics, chemistry, astronomy and the new wonder electricity – totally illuminating!
- Seeing the beauty of these ceiling paintings makes one want to shout out a resounding curtain call for one Philip Goatcher – BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO!