Aby ‘Farmer ‘Altson was born on 21 August 1866 at Middlesbrough-on-Tees, Yorkshire, England. Altson migrated to Australia from England to join his brother Barnett in 1883 and worked in his uncle’s leather and saddlery business. He began art classes at the Gallery School of Design in 1886 and spent his leisure with members of the ‘Heidelberg‘ painting school where he painted a number of small oil panels on cigar-lids from his brother’s tobacconist shop.
In 1890, he won a travelling scholarship to study with Gustave Courtois and Pascal-Adolphe-Jean-Dagnan-Bouveret at the Academie Julian in Paris. He won a salon Gold Medal for his painting Echoin 1892 and from 1894-1898 worked in London as an illustrator for The Westminster Magazine.
Between 1895 and 1936 Altson travelled frequently to India, and became the official portrait painter for several Indian maharajahs. When he migrated to the USA in 1937, he became a much sort-after women’s portrait painter. Among his best portraits is his prize winning 1889 portrait of his sister-in-law, which is in the National Gallery of Victoria. His Flood Suffering in 1890 was acclaimed by critics as “the best painting” of that year.
Altson died on 7th November 1948, at Elmhurst, New York.
- For the composition “The Golden Age,” Altson had some degree of difficulty trying to obtain permission from land proprietors in France, in order to paint nudes in the open. Eventually he succeeded and took his models to a remote and rarely visited area on the island of Norimontir, off the south-west coast of France.