John Skinner Prout (1805-1876) was born in Plymouth, England. Although his uncle was the leading English watercolourist Samuel Prout (1783-1852), he seems to have been largely self-trained. His earliest known lithograph was published in Penzance in 1827. In the following year he married Maria Marsh, an accomplished musician and painter. From 1831 to 1838 they lived in Bristol and Prout went on numerous sketching excursions in southern England, Wales and Ireland. He published four volumes of lithographs of antiquities of Bristol, Chester, York and Monmouthshire. In 1838 he moved to London, where he was elected a member of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours.
In 1840 Prout and his family emigrated to New South Wales. He became a member of the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts and gave a number of lectures on painting. In 1842-44 he produced a four part set of lithographed views, Sydney Illustrated. He made several journeys into the country, sketching in the Blue Mountains, Newcastle, Port Stephens and Illawarra regions. In 1844 he moved to Van Diemen’s Land and began drawing a new lithographic series, Tasmania Illustrated. Another work, Views of Melbourne and Geelong was published in 1847. He made many trips in the colony, including a visit to Flinders Island, and encouraged friends to hold art exhibitions in Hobart in 1845 and 1846.
In 1848 Prout and his family returned to England and he lived in London for the rest of his life. In 1850 he produced a diorama, Voyage to Australia, and he updated it in 1851 to include the gold discoveries. He was re-elected to the New Society of Painters in Water Colours and exhibited at its annual shows until the year of his death. He continued to make sketching tours, illustrated articles on the colonies, and undertook commissions for lithographs.
Prout was one of the most talented artists who worked in colonial Australia. In his landscapes he was mainly concerned with revealing picturesque views, and exploring the effects of light and colour, rather than with topographical accuracy. His work influenced a number of colonial artists, such as Conrad Martens in New South Wales and Francis Simpkinson in Tasmania.
The earliest acquisition of Australian paintings by the Library was a collection of 44 watercolours and pencil and wash drawings by John Skinner Prout, received in 1909 as part of the Petherick Collection. The Nan Kivell Collection, purchased in 1959, included 32 watercolours of Prout, as well as a large number of lithographs. A watercolour ‘Night scene at the diggings’ was purchased from the dealer Joseph Brown in 1977 and an oil painting ‘Scarborough Bay’ was bought in London in 1984.
The Library holds two oil paintings, 41 watercolours, and 38 pencil and wash or pencil drawings by John Skinner Prout. While many cannot be precisely dated, they were all produced in Australia in 1841-48, with the exception of ‘Night scene at the diggings’, which was painted in London.
Tasmanian works make up the largest group in the collection. There are several paintings of Hobart, Mount Wellington and the Derwent Valley, including Sandy Bay, New Town, the penitentiary and the tomb of a constable shot by the bushranger Martin Cash. Other landscapes depict New Norfolk, Port Arthur, Schouten Island, Avoca, Launceston and the South Esk River. There are a number of views of Lake St Clair in central Tasmania and King Island in Bass Strait. As well as identified places, there are seascapes and studies of fern trees and tea trees.
The New South Wales works include views of Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Domain and Botany Bay, the Hawkesbury River, Cow Pastures River, the Jamieson Valley, the Bathurst Road, Lake Illawarra, Wollongong, Mulgoa, and the village of Broulee on the South Coast. There are also a few Victorian works painted in 1846-47, such as the Yarra River, Mount Macedon and the Goulburn River.
In addition to the original works, the Library holds many lithographs and wood engravings by Prout. Most of the lithographs are plates from his three Australian books:
Sydney Illustrated (14 plates)
Tasmania Illustrated (17 plates)
Views of Melbourne and Geelong (6 plates)
The following are later works containing engravings by Prout:
The sketcher in Tasmania, 1862
There are also a number of engravings after Prout which appeared in Edwin Carton Booth’s Australia (2 vols, 1873-76).
The paintings, drawings and prints of John Skinner Prout are held in the Pictures Collection at various locations. They have been catalogued individually and most of them have been digitised.
Brown, Tony, Prout, John Skinner, in The dictionary of Australian artists, edited by Joan Kerr , Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 644-46
Brown, Tony and Kolenberg, Hendrik, Skinner Prout in Australia, 1840-48, Hobart, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 1986
Hodgman, V.W., Prout, John Skinner (1805-1876), in Australian Dictionary of Biography online