Macleod was born in London and came with his family to Victoria, Australia in 1855. His father, William, died the same year and his mother moved to Sydney where she married James Anderson RHA, from Belfast. Anderson was reputedly working as an artist in England before emigrating to Australia c.1852; he was one of the organisers of the Victorian Arts Exhibition the following year as well as an exhibitor. He became a moderately successful portrait painter in Melbourne, country Victoria and Sydney until the 1870s. Despite this success he proved an unreliable provider for his family.
From the age of twelve Macleod worked in a photographic studio while training as an artist. He studied at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts under drawing master Edmund Thomas and F.L. Terry, who was an examiner; S.T. Gill was another influence on the young Macleod. By the age of fifteen Macleod was winning prizes for his drawing and three years later he was passing on his skills as an art teacher. He was a founding member of the New South Wales Academy of Art and exhibited regularly and successfully in the Academy’s annual shows and his portraits were regularly singled out for special mention. Another member of that first committee of NSWAA was James Fairfax who would later be instrumental in promoting Macleod’s career as an illustrator and journalist, most notably for the large format three volume Picturesque Atlas of Australasia.
From 1869 to 1874 Macleod designed stained glass windows for John Falconer (1838-91) who established the first stained glass studio in Sydney in 1863. Macleod’s first designs were for St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Darlinghurst (now SCEGGS Hall) and two east windows for St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, Broadway in 1867. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Albury has a suite of 26 McLeod-designed windows (1872) and eight windows in St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Myers Flat near Bendigo (Vic.), originally made for a church at Burragorang (NSW) (1874).
Among his best known stained glass windows is The Prodigal Son, made for Darlinghurst Gaol (NSW), now the National Art School, which won a prize at the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1873. For years the window was popularly attributed to two prisoners although it was reported at the time as Macleod’s work, possibly to a design by James Barnet. The three-light east window for St. John’s Anglican Church, Reid (ACT) is arguably his most important stained glass commission. Bold and colourful in typical Macleod/Falconer style, it depicted key events from the Life of John the Baptist, the church’s Patron Saint, surmounted by symbols of the Christian church.
Macleod was a versatile artist and it seems that after 1874 he no longer produced designs for stained glass, moving towards his long career in illustration, books and journalism. Macleod was best known for his business success at The Bulletin, which he managed from 1886. His involvement varied in turn from cartoonist, to art editor, business manager and managing director, as well as shareholder, until his retirement in 1925. Art remained at the core of his life and in retirement he added clay sculpture to his considerable artistic skills.
Karla Whitmore, ‘William Macleod (1850-1929)’ (2015) who generously permitted a summary of her article to be published in the Stained Glass Encyclopedia Project.
McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art,The Miegungyah Press, MUP Ltd, Carlton 2006.
Sherry, Beverley Australia’s Historic Stained Glass, Murray Child, Sydney 1991.
Australian Town and Country Journal, 29 April 1871, p. 9.
Freeman’s Journal, 25 April 1874, p. 10.
Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 11 April 1874, p. 479.
Sydney Morning Herald, 25 June 1929, p. 12. (photo of William Macleod)