John Mather (1848?-1916), painter, etcher and teacher, was born at Hamilton, Scotland, son of John Mather, surveyor, and his wife Margaret, née Allan. Little is recorded of his early life but as a young man he studied art at the Royal Institute of Fine Arts, Glasgow, before migrating to Australia in 1878. He had hoped to practise professionally but when he settled in Melbourne realized he would be unable to make an immediate living from painting, and worked as a house decorator. He was engaged to paint the inside of the dome of the Exhibition Building for £2000 and this contract gave him slight financial independence, enabling him to give more time to art.
Mather was a skilful and prolific etcher although better known as a landscape painter who worked with equal facility in oils and watercolours. He built a studio at Lilydale and much of his painting was done in the surrounding countryside; his pastorales were painted in quiet colours with faithful representation of the natural scene. Although Mather practised the plein air method of painting introduced by Louis Buvelot, he kept aloof from the ‘Australian Impressionism’ of his contemporaries, Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and others. As his pictures became popular he was known in the Australian art world as a ‘best seller’. He conducted art classes and frequently lectured at the artists’ camps at Eaglemont; although he was never considered a major influence in the period he had a large following.
A foundation member of the Victorian Artists’ Society, Mather was president in 1893-1900, 1906-08 and 1911. In 1912 he joined Fred McCubbin, Max Meldrum, Walter Withers and others to form a breakaway group, the Australian Art Association. After constant campaigning for the inclusion of an artist on the board of trustees of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria, Mather was appointed in 1892. He was a member of the Felton Bequest Committee in 1905-16 and in this capacity, and as trustee, he strongly supported Australian art. It is told that Mather offered Streeton £150 for ‘Purple Noon’s Transparent Might’ while another trustee, unknowing, offered £126. Three of his own paintings, ‘Autumn in the Fitzroy Gardens’ (oil), and ‘Morning, Lake Omeo’ and ‘Wintry Weather, Yarra Glen’ (watercolours), were purchased by the gallery. In 1911 he visited an exhibition of British art at Wellington, New Zealand, and advised on purchases.
From Dictionary of Australian Artists