English artist William Strutt came to Australia in 1850 and remained until 1862. Colonial Australia was a country so often imagined without a history, and Strutt had the ambitions to produce history painting. In seeking to reflect the development of a historical consciousness in Australia, he failed to find much of an audience, but was arguably ahead of his time.
It took quite an act of the imagination to think of Australia as having a history worth painting. Hear about the world that artist William Strutt was living in: the changing face of Melbourne and Victoria, the heroes and villains he depicted and the unique relationships he developed with contemporary artists and patrons. Exhibition curator Matthew Jones with Elisabeth Findlay, Sasha Grishin, Chris McAuliffe and Richard White discuss Strutt's time in Australia, and his legacy.
Transcript for Strutt and Friends
Speakers: Stuart Baines (S), Matthew Jones (M), Dr Sasha Grisham (G), Elizabeth Findlay (E), Chris McAuliffe (C), Richard White (R)
Location: National Library of Australia
S: Good afternoon, all. Welcome and thank you for joining us this afternoon. I’m Stuart Baines, Assistant Director of Community Outreach here at the National Library of Australia. The exhibition, ‘Heroes and Villains: Strutt’s Australia’ is a thoughtful investigation into the life and work of Australia’s first great exponent of history painting, William Strutt. ‘Heroes and Villains’ brings together William Strutt’s oils, water colours, sketches and prints from the National Library’s collection with dramatic works from several major Australian collections. His most famous paintings will be on display together we believe for the first time.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our exhibition partner, the State Library of Victoria, and exhibition leaders, the State Library of New South Wales, the University of Melbourne, the Melbourne Club and the Parliament of Victoria for allowing us to display iconic works that are central to the understanding of Strutt’s importance. I also thank the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Australia. The generosity of our fellow institutions enables us to share with all Australians the story of William Strutt and provide deep insight into the creative journey of one of Australia’s great colonial artists.
We have been fortunate to receive financial support from the Australian Government through the National Collecting Institutions’ Touring and Outreach program. Thanks to this support, ‘Heroes and Villains: Strutt’s Australia’ will be seen here in Canberra, and also next year at the State Library of Victoria. ‘Heroes and Villains: Strutt’s Australia’ marks the first time that a survey of Strutt’s work of this scale has been exhibited in 25 years. Today, therefore, we have decided to find out a little bit more about the artist, William Strutt, by inviting individuals to speak who have encountered Strutt through their own research in recent years.
Matthew Jones is the curator of ‘Heroes and Villains: Strutt’s Australia’ and has worked in the cultural sector for 15 years, initially at Sydney Living Museums and the National Museum of Australia. Since July 2011, Matt has worked in the Exhibitions branch at the National Library, where he co-curated ‘The Life of Patrick White’ and coordinated ‘Abstraction Creation: J W Power in Europe, 1921 to 1938’ and ‘The Dream of the Century: the Griffins in Australia’s Capital.’ Matthew Jones will share with us some of the key themes of the exhibition and key themes in the work of artist, William Strutt. Following on from Matthew Jones we’ll hear from Professors Sasha Grisham and Elizabeth Findlay, Drs Chris McAuliffe and Richard White who will share their own perspectives on William Strutt, his friends and the Australian society he encountered.
Today we are also trialling a stream of our talk through a provider called Periscope which is being streamed as we speak live and is also available for the next 24 hours in case you want to go home and have a repeat, anything that you missed you can catch up. Following our presentation today there is an opportunity to continue the discussion with our presenters over afternoon tea. Please welcome Matthew Jones.
M: Thanks, Stuart. And thank you, everyone for coming along today and hello to our international audience watching for the first time through the internet so it’s ... to paraphrase Neil Armstrong this is a small step for this event but a giant swaggering strut for the Library. See what I did there? Thank you, thank you. Today’s event will look at the English artist, William Strutt, and investigate his place within the colonial art world of 19th century Australia. We are fortunate to have four fantastic speakers visiting us today who will look at how Strutt operated within and influenced the local arts industry, how his work engages with colonial politics and considers his art in relation to his contemporaries and others who have represented Australia’s past. Sorry, I'm losing the screen on my screen here so I just wanted to make sure it was still up there.
Before introducing our speakers I’d like to take a few minutes to make some brief introductory remarks about the life and art of Strutt. I hope this will provide some context for the talks to follow especially for members of our audience who might not be too familiar with Strutt and his work. Born in England in 1825, Strutt had the right kind of pedigree and training to become a successful artist. His grandfather and father were both artists and from the age of 14 he trained in Paris, the centre of the western art world. He started at the atelier of Michel Martin Drolling and was later accepted into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the most prestigious art academy in Europe. The training was systematic and thorough and after seven years’ study Strutt emerged as a superb draftsman and renderer of the human figure and had an ability to compose complex narrative works with large casts of characters.
This training not only shaped Strutt’s methodology, it also fired his ambition. The French academy promoted a hierarchy of genres, the highest of which was history painting, large dramatic canvases of narrative scenes from classical literature, the Bible and increasingly in the 19th century contemporary historical events. It was Strutt’s desire to work on such pictures. After an underwhelming start to his career in Europe and a period of ill health he made the radical decision to plunge into the unknown and set out for Australia at the age of 24. He arrived in Melbourne on the 5th of July 1850 and expect for a brief stint of a little over a year in New Zealand he lived around Melbourne until 1862. When he stopped off the boat the gold rush was still a year away, there was no colony of Victoria and the population of the then unpretending city of Melbourne was around 20,000. When he left a little over 11 years later Melbourne had exploded and had a population of over 125,000. It was the capital of a new colony, Victoria, and one of the richest cities in the world.
For Strutt the pages of history were overflowing with significant events and he wanted to transfer some of this drama to heroic monumental canvases. He tried with the support of John Pascoe Fawkner, the self-styled father of Melbourne, he pain ... produced large oils of the opening of the Legislative Council in 1851 and of Parliament House in 1856. He attended both openings to make the required preparatory drawings but alas both times the funds necessary to complete such large works could not be raised. And his only large-scale history paintings on Australian themes were completed in England.
Strutt worked in a small art market and like most other artists at the time he made his living from producing illustrations for prints and painting portraits. He produced illustrations of celebrations surrounding the separation of Victoria from New South Wales in 1851. I might have gone ahead a slide, you know. That’s alright, sorry about that. He also depicted life on the Victorian goldfields ... so I am on the right slide ... the native police corps of Port Phillip and the training of volunteers for the Victorian police force at Werribee in 1861. He painted portraits of Fawkner, Governor Sir Edward Macarthur—the son of wool baron John Macarthur—Sir John O’Shanassy, the second Premier of Victoria, and the fabled explorer, Robert O’Hara Burke. He also extensively documented the Burke and Wills expedition at Royal Park before they left Melbourne on their heroic but ultimately doomed odyssey across the continent.
Strutt went back to England in 1862 and had an unremarkable career as an artist and teacher. He never returned to Australia but he did eventually complete some large historical works on Australian themes which have become arguably his most memorable pictures. In particular Black Thursday, which is on loan from the State Library of Victoria. It’s his largest and arguably most famous work and was based on the devastating fire that consumed Victoria in 1851. Bushrangers Victoria, Australia which is also based on an actual incident is another well-known painting and Chris McAuliffe will be talking about that today. And of course the Burial of Burke.
Except for some brief trips to continental Europe, Strutt stayed in England until his death at the age of 89 in 1915. His colonial work was only a small part of his output in England which was mostly small genre pieces featuring animals and scenes from the Bible, all executed in the classical style he was trained in and ignoring the new trends of French modern art.
Undervalued for the first part of the 20th century, Strutt’s contribution to Australian art has been reassessed in the last few decades. Since the 1950s, several major Australian collections, libraries and galleries have built significant holdings of his work. The National Library has over 200 works in its collection, many of them acquired by Rex Nan Kivell. There are also important Strutt collections at the State Libraries of Victoria and New South Wales, the National Gallery, the Victorian Parliamentary Library and the University of Melbourne. All of these institutions have made important loans to the exhibition downstairs which is the first show to focus on Strutt’s work since the exhibition created by Heather Kernot and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the early 1980s.
So that’s my potted summary of Strutt’s life and work. We think he is a very interesting figure and we hope the exhibition downstairs and today’s forum will provide an opportunity for everyone to reconsider his work and role in Australian art history. The first of our speakers today that will go into a little bit more depth about Strutt is Dr Sasha Grisham. Sasha is an emeritus professor at the Australian National University where he established the academic discipline of art history and was the Sir William Dobell Professor of Art History and Head of Art History and Curatorship until 2013, and he taught me. And probably half the people working in Canberra, actually, in arts institutions. One of the most recent publications ... he works internationally as an art historian and art critic and curator and has published more than 25 books. One of the most recent publications is S T Gill and his Audiences, which was published by the National Library in association with the State Library of Victoria.
As mentioned earlier, Sasha has also curated the associated exhibition, Australian Sketchbook, Colonial Life and the Art of S T Gill which is on for one more week at the State Library of Victoria and has been breaking all kinds of attendance records. Even though it’s only one for one more week don’t fear, it’s coming to the National Library in June next year for three months so if you didn’t get a chance to see it in Melbourne or you want to see it again please come and see it here in 2016. Sasha’s talk will compare the work of Strutt and Gill and discuss them within a broader context of 19th century colonial art in Australia. So now I hand over to Mr Grisham.
G: Thank you very much. Adam, is it possible to get the lights dimmed here? No? Can we just switch off the lights? Do we need them on, though? Brilliant, thank you. Now we can actually see the pictures as well. Listen, thank you so much. As Matt mentioned I will be speaking about S T Gill and William Strutt. And I’ve been allotted 15 minutes so I’ll read this paper and I’m told that the microphone will be switched off after 15 minutes so then I’ll have to adopt my best AFL voice after that.
Both William Strutt and Samuel Thomas Gill were the sons of English nonconformist preachers who dabbled in business and painted. Both had mothers who ran schools for young ladies. Gill arrived in Australia just before Christmas in 1839 when he was 21 years old. Strutt, who was seven years his junior, arrived in July 1850, a couple of days after his 25th birthday. Now these superficial similarities conceal the huge gulf that separates the two artists. Gill’s training as an artist in England was limited, his father, judging from surviving examples of his work, was a rather poor amateur dabbler and that author of tedious ecclesiastic verse. Gill received his art training in the dedicated schools for young gentlemen from the art masters especially at the Dr Seabrook Academy in Plymouth. He also found employment in the shop of Mr Saunders, a print seller, guilder, picture framer and lithographic publisher in Devonport, and subsequently Gill worked at the Hubbard Profile Gallery in The Strand in London as a water colour painter and draftsman.
In his application for the free passage to South Australia in 1839, he gives his trade as carver and guilder. Well on arrival in Adelaide advertises in March of 1840 his services as an artist who, and I quote, ‘solicits attendance of such individuals as are desirous of obtaining correct likenesses of themselves, families or friends, correct resemblances of horses, dogs and local scenery etc.’
Strutt’s father on the other hand was an accomplished miniaturist who exhibited with the Royal Academy. William Strutt was a Francophile from an early age and by the time he was 10 he had his personal French tutor who also was his first drawing instructor. By the time he was 13 he was studying in Pairs with a former pupil of Jacques-Louis David and went through the whole process of drawing from plaster casts to detailed anatomy classes before entering the Ecole des Beaux-Arts at the age of 14. Here his masters were Paul Delaroche and Horace Vernet. Dad, who had the time for his day job, worked as a clerk for the Bank of England, supported his son’s art studies in Paris by selling off the family silver or more accurately his outstanding collection of prints. When the money ran out Strutt returned to England in 1845 but found neither the physical nor artistic climate to his taste and went back to Paris where he endeavoured to make a living as a portraitist and an illustrator. This venture was not a success and the 1848 revolution in Paris sent him scurrying back to England. Strutt’s gods in art to whom he remained faithful for the rest of his life were Delaroche and Vernet, who were part of that conservative backward-looking academic tradition that Charles Bodley famously dismissed in his salon review of 1846 as the small change of French academic painting.
When Gill and Strutt arrived in Australia they could be seen as bringing with them two very different traditions of art. Gill arrived with the knowledge of the tradition of democratic multiples, of drawings, water colours and lithographs and one which pointed to Hogarth, Gillray and Rollinson as his torchbearers. Strutt on the other hand, was the product of the conservative French academic tradition in the grand manner of dark history paintings in oils and formal portraiture which could point to David and Ang [?] as standing as the inspirational founding head. The contrast I think is clear in these two fantasy self-portraits of our two artists, Gill as an Australian bushman and Strutt as a New Zealand bushman. They’re 70 ... the 31 year old Strutt adopts a triumphant pose with his hand on his hip supporting an axe with which he’s apparently chopped into a huge tree that is about to topple over. The anatomical pose is a bit awkward when you consider his legs but the gaze of the beholder is direct with a sense of confronting pride.
Gill was in his mid-40s when he executed his image which was both humorous and topical. Clutching to his portfolio of drawings under his arm and carrying his boots and pipe as he cools his feet in the stream he’s distracted by two indigenous friends who are trying to tell him something. They’re actually warning him that a black snake is about to strike his foot while the melodic magpie above is about to unload and worsen the predicament of the artist. For Gill a bit of humour was a prerequisite for much of his art.
Next. Next. Although Gill when hawking for work advertises his ability to undertake portraiture relatively few examples of his formal portraits survive such as this water colour portrait of Thomas Harding of Kapuna. And they appear as somewhat awkward and unconvincing. Portraiture was the bread and butter of Strutt’s existence as Elizabeth will speak to in a moment and while he grumbled that they distracted him from the history paintings, the main game for academician, there was an abundance of portrait commissions but not of history paintings. His Robert O’Hara Burke ... and I’m showing the water coloured version so we’re comparing two water colour portraits ... dates late in the artist’s 12 year stay in the antipodes and while carefully and exactingly rendered it is somewhat lifeless, a bit like a taxidermied exhibit.
An interesting parallel may be drawn comparing the two artists’ treatment of the departure of explorers on journeys of discovery. Strutt’s majestic water colour of the departure of Burke and Wills has the hero on a beautiful Arab charger in the foreground in the centre declaring to the mayor that he would reach the Gulf of Carpentaria or die in the attempt, the 13 imported camels from India and an exotic note while the rearing horses and the confused compositional structure with bold and dramatic gestures remind one of Vernez’s paintings of battlefield triumphs. In Gill’s water colour drawing of the departure of Charles Sturt’s exhibition the topical and the incidental are given free rein.
Gill shows the momentous scene precisely located by the street sign in the bottom right-hand corner as William Street with the bullock dray in the lower right-hand corner hauling the boat for the exploration of the great inland sea that Sturt was convinced they would find. The procession itself is in the middle distance while the whole foreground is dedicated to a genre scene in which from behind a picket fence we see the artist standing with his pipe taking in the view and in conversation with possibly his brother, John Ryland Gill. There are a couple of groups of curious Aboriginal peoples, one of whom is being spoken to by a policeman ... nothing much has changed ... together with a whole cross-section of onlookers who are witnesses rather than participants in the scene.
Although Thomas Rollinson had long combined formal views with genre details for satirical intent Gill’s purpose was to breathe life into what would otherwise have been quite a monotonous scene of colonial pomp and ceremony. Equestrian traffic disrupts the orderly flow of the procession, dogs dart amongst the participants and observing the whole scene amongst the discarded bottles, broken wagon wheels, empty barrels is the silent observer shown with his back to the viewer recording the whole panorama of life.
Next, please. Excellent. Once gold rushes had started they became a magnet for people from all over the world while those already in Australia promptly found their way to the Victorian goldfields. This included numerous artists whose number included Eugene von Guerard, Thomas Woolner, Edward Latrobe Bateman, Samuel Calvert, Ludwig Becker, David Tullock as well as Gill and Strutt. I’ve come across no evidence those two ever met but they certainly were in the same place at the same time but amongst thousands of others. Differences between the two artists and their different traditions are particularly apparent in the images of the goldfields. Strutt is anxious to record history in the making. His open air service at the diggings marks a solemn occasion where men of faith, and I think it’s only men that are present, gather to celebrate God even where there is no church. For Gill it’s an image of actuality, of being there where men, women and children gather together around the preacher. Some listen to him, others are lost in their own world of thoughts and some have their backs turned to the man of God who appears slightly ... a slightly ridiculous zealot and are more concerned with sharing gossip and news.
The same is true with most of the other scenes that the two artists left of their experiences in the goldfields. When Strutt turns to depict the Commissioner’s tent it is like an Englishman’s .. gentleman’s bivouac in the bush with officers and clean crisp uniforms and elegant horses. Gill’s version of ... has a sense of grit and the feeling for being there, the diggers stands in a queue in the hot sun to buy their licences and appears like a site of abuse which was to lead to Eureka.
To my mind both Gill and Strutt were ultimately quite tragic figures. Strutt after his 12 years in the colonies which included a year in New Zealand failed to establish himself as an artist. He gained the patronage as Matt mentioned of John Pascoe Fawkner and Sir Edward Macarthur who commissioned portraits of themselves and won the respect of James Smith, the conservative but very energetic and influential journalist and critic but was unable to secure commissions for major history paintings on Australian things. He returned to England with his expanding family in 1862 and spent the remaining 53 years of his life moving around England eking out a living as a minor academic artist and a sentimental animal genre painter, frequently complaining about financial difficulties, sales and the politics of the Royal Academy which in the final decade of his life rejected his works.
It was after he returned to England as matt mentioned that Strutt painted his major academic history paintings on Australian subjects, that circumstances had conspired against him commencing in Australia. Although he may not have had the opportunity to paint them in Australia but like a good academician he made scores of preliminary sketches, notes and observations on the spot and then painstakingly pieced them together generally based on established academic prototypes. Strutt’s large academic paintings on Australian subjects including Black Thursday, February the 6th 1851 was painted in 1864, the burial of Burke in 1911 and Bushrangers Victoria, Australia 1852 in 1887. Over time the works with some difficulty drifted to Australia and are now brought together in this wonderful exhibition. Although he was an accomplished draftsman, possibly the best trained classical draftsman to work in Australia in the 1850s as an academician he looked back to the 1830s and wanted to revive the grand manner of classic academic painting but history was not on his side. And when Australians sought for an academic narrative in their art they turned to Tom Robets and Frederick McCubbin, younger contemporaries of Strutt who took their point of departure from the much more recent trends in European art.
Gill never left Australia and spent the remaining 41 years in the country. In the S T Gill exhibition, which we’ll come to ... this is all a plug ... which will come to Vienna Lane June of next year, will be able to trace the strength and brilliance of his artistic vision as a Koori-lover, as an antiracist, an environmentalist and as an artist who more than any other forged in visual form the image of the Aussie digger. Gill ended his days largely lacking a sympathetic audience and died in poverty on the 27th of October 1880 on the steps of the GPO in Melbourne. He was 62 years old. Although we can now safely reject the myth of Gill as a victim of demon drink who could not hold a paintbrush in the final years of his life in fact he executed some of his finest and technically most demanding water colour paintings in the year of his death, 1880, he was rejected by many of his contemporaries and had to wait 135 for a proper retrospective exhibition. You know this collaborative venture between the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Victoria has resulted in these two major exhibitions which are reassessing the work of two of our significant colonial artists. Thank you and over to Elizabeth.
M: Thank you very much, Sasha, and I should mention also that the Strutt exhibition will be travelling to the State Library of Victoria next year and showing there in June as well so they’ll pass each other on the Hume Highway at some point. Perhaps they’ll meet then.
Our next speaker today is Dr Elizabeth Findlay who is Associate Professor and Deputy Director of Learning and Teaching at Griffith University. She previously worked at the Australian National University as the Associate Dean of Students in the College of Arts and Social Sciences. Elizabeth is an art historian specialising in portraiture and 19th century Australian art. Her first monograph was on the voyager artist, William Westall, and we have a lot of Westalls in our collection here at the Library and she has curated various exhibitions on Australian colonial art. Recent publications include Relics of Encounter, Rapport and Trust in Early Portraits of the Aborigines of New South Wales and Art and Patronage in Early Colonial Melbourne, John Pascoe Fawkner and William Strutt. She is currently completing a history of Australian colonial portraiture.
Today Elizabeth will examine William Strutt’s portraits and the patronage of John Pascoe Fawkner. Portrait commissions were a critical source of income for Strutt but they also reveal his ambitious plans and vision for a local arts industry in Australia. So I’ll hand over to Dr Findlay, thank you very much.
E: Hello everyone. Thanks Matthew, thank you, Brendan, it’s a real pleasure to be back home and I really appreciate the National Library inviting me to speak today. Now I’ve only been 14 minutes ... you got an extra minute ... so I’ll also be sticking fairly closely to a script but as you know Sasha and Matt have already mentioned this is a really exciting exhibition. I’ve found it thrilling to see all these works I’ve studied in different collections brought together on the walls downstairs so I really appreciate the National Library investing in an exhibition such as this.
Now you know one of the reasons why Strutt is such an interesting artist, obviously he’s proficient, excellent draftsman but beyond that it i ... these issues of ... and insights he gives us into the processes of colonisation, the interchange of ideas across the empire and the growth of the local arts community and this growing sense of Australian identity is another really critical reason why I think he’s worth us looking at. So I am going to concentrate on the portraits and the theme of patronage. In some ways I feel I drew the short straw because some of the works I'm going to show you are probably the most uninteresting, they’re probably ones you’ve walked past in the exhibition and gone oh I want to get to the big ones. Which is fine but hopefully I can give you a little bit of insight into what some of these images that are quite humble, about why I consider them so highly significant.
Okay, I’m going to start ... what have I done? By closing this all down. So I want to start by showing you an image ... actually not by Strutt, it’s an image from Melbourne Punch and it’s called Designs for the Fawkner Statue. Now you know Melbourne Punch ... those of you who know Melbourne Punch and I’ve spent many days in with the microfiche looking through Melbourne Punch ... it very much follows the lead of London Punch, its parents and it loves to target politician and delights in sort of showing them as simpleminded and pompous. One of the reasons I wanted to show you this, that in a quite humorous way this image shows us the kind of environment that Strutt was working in and it highlights actually the resistance toward local artists celebrating the colony’s own heroes and this is the kind of theme that we’ll run through what I want to discuss today.
So it ... first of all so it shows us obviously ... a design for a statue of Fawkner which was actually being discussed at the time. Fawkner ... it was quite an elaborate scheme that was being discussed, there was plans to not only create a bust, commission a bust but a large bronze estimated to cost around £500 was planned to be erected and fenced off. Like so many of the things I’m going to talk about today it never came to fruition so what this cartoon does is that we have Fawkner cast in sort of three different guises and they’re these key ... they’re borrowing from sort of key other local works. So the first one he’s being cast as Napoleon so we have ... the trusty steed is replaced by a kangaroo which Fawkner kind of balances precariously on. In the next image ... we’ve got ... in the centre image we’ve got Fawkner cast as you know with patriot written across the front of him, he’s cast as Hercules swiping at Hydra with ... who actually has papal crown, that’s ... gets more complex. And then in the last one, which I think’s maybe my favourite, he’s shown as Athena you know goddess of all wisdom and guardian of the state with this kind of ridiculous owl perched on the head and this is also the then Premier Haynes of Victoria.
So Punch is sort of like having a go obviously at Fawkner but it does also reveal some of the underlying scepticism that Australians had at this time about the fact that it could have its own heroes. As Tim’s point about Hayde has argued in his discussion actually of this cartoon, that the demise of the scheme did not reflect though on Fawkner’s lack of popularity. Instead it exposed the colony’s inability to translate the growing support of local arts projects into reality. So the support is growing but it’s just not being realised. And this was the environment that Strutt was working in.
So the first image that Strutt produces of Fawkner is this image here of 1853. Now Fawkner was critical to the survival of Strutt. They met ... the pair met not long after Strutt’s arrival in 1850 and they quickly formed a very close acquaintance. They had much in common, their part ... and their partnership developed ... as their partnership developed they became united in their determination to create enduring and inspiring image of the people and events from Melbourne’s albeit embryonic history.
Strutt was unwaveringly loyal to Fawkner. Fawkner was a sort of character who was criticised a lot in colonial society but Fawkner was ... Strutt was very devoted to Fawkner saying ... writing in his journals that he believed that it was his duty to add ... and this is to quote ... to add a leaf or two to the laurels which will some day in all fairness be accorded to Fawkner’s memory.
So Fawkner in many ways was an unlikely champion and benefactor of the visual arts, he arrived in Tasmania as a son of a convict in 1803 and he lived in poverty with this mother and sister. He was constantly in the company of convicts and their families and in this environment he ... the revolutionary spirit fermented and he always saw himself as a champion of the oppressed. Both of his biographers described Fawkner as a complex and outspoken man and in 1835 he and his wife, Eliza, moved from Tasmania to the Port Phillip district as it was then and erected a hotel at the site that would soon become Melbourne.
Fawkner declared to the world that he was the founder of the city and refuted the claims of his rival, John Batman, who conveniently for him died in 1839 so there was kind of a clear field for him. In 1851, and this is where we get to sort of this point here, where he’s meeting Strutt, he was elected as a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, a position he held for 18 years. So this first full length depicts Fawkner as the politician poised to deliver a speech. He’s leaning on the parliamentary benches, a respectable, steadfast leader working for the greater good. Strutt ... and also you can see he’s shrewdly elevated Fawkner so there’s a kind ... he’s made sure that the floor slopes up so that this ... the physical stature of Fawkner could be circumnavigated or avoided because Fawkner was actually quite small and he was very self-conscious about his physical stature, that he was a small wiry man and he was actually nicknamed little Johnny, a name that he didn’t like at all. So you can also see ... I’ve put here on the left-hand side the pencil ... the water colour study and as you can see you ... how closely Strutt worked to those preparatory drawings when he did his portraits.
So the next image that Strutt did of Fawkner was this one in 1856 and this is ... was widely circulated. So Strutt here departs from the full-length format and instead opts for the bust composition, that half-length composition was very popular choice in the mid-19th century. Strutt reported that when he was painting this image of Fawkner he was actually very unwell and was frequently compelled to kneel down ‘til his coughing fit subsided so this may be one reason he has not opted for the full length ‘cause Strutt tended with these kind of images to prefer the full-length portrait.
So nevertheless ... so even though he’s unwell we’re still presented with a strong and commanding figure as Fawkner defiantly folds his arms and thoughtfully gazes to a point in the distance. The portrait also reflects the slight shift in style in Strutt’s post-New Zealand portraits which tend to cater more to melodramatic ... the melodramatic that the Victorians like so we tend to get a lot more things like those plush red fabrics, the ubiquitous classical columns that come in and this kind of emotive sky so he starts ... compared to the one I’ve just showed you before it’s got just a touch more sense of drama.
So as part of this adding to this sense of respectability so there's kind of almost a makeover taking place here with Fawkner, the convict, to Fawkner, this hero. Strutt also painted a portrait of Fawkner’s wife, Eliza. Now Fawkner tells a very amusing story of how he met Eliza ... I'm not quite sure how she put up with this but anyway ... he said in ... so one of the things that took place in the early years of the colony, there was a sh ... obviously there was a shortage of women so men would line up along the docks in the hope of meeting a bride to be. So clutching wedding certificates the young hopefuls would target the most attractive single women. So Fawkner’s lining up and he recounts on that day he ... on the day that he’d met Eliza he’d actually chosen a prettier woman but she was stolen off him so he opted for her, the plainer Eliza. So ... and he used to tell this story, as I say I’m not sure how she put up with it ... but in reality Eliza did not arrive on an immigrants’ ship and was instead transported at the age of 17 for stealing a baby so she too was a convict. Fawkner’s yarn about his introduction to Eliza demonstrates how adept he was at reinventing and fabricating his own life story.
So we can see in the portrait of Eliza, her chequered history is obscured and replaced very much ... this is a very solid image of respectability, the kind of portraits that are kind of a staple for a lot of colonial artists. She appears suitably matronly in her modest day dress, typical of the 1850s and designed to fully cover her body. Flesh was only ... you could only show flesh in the evenings. Her headdress is quite elaborate for the period and actually it’s a little bit out of date in many ways and harks back to the excesses of the 1840s, complete with we can see a flower garland, feathers and a precisely placed pearl. A delicate lace collar and long chain complete Mrs Fawkner’s transformation to the wife of a gentleman.
So this image ... and this just is to sort of give you an insight into how these images circulated ... Fawkner just didn’t hang the image in his home and say that’s great, he ... as a man ... a self-made man ... he very much realised the importance of managing public perception and particularly given his rather tentative position in colonial hierarchy and his grip on power part of ... he realised that part of this maintaining power meant projecting an image far removed from his convict heritage. Thinking strategically Fawkner ensured that his portraits were constantly in circulation and being exhibited. So for example this image was exhibited at Norton’s Picture Frame Shop in Collins Street and was also hung again at the Victorian Exhibition of Art. And as you can see on the right-hand side it was engraved by Samuel Calvert who was one of the most prolific engravers in the colony and published in the Illustrated Journal of Australasia. Also note here ... there ... it appears under the banner of Our Portrait Gallery so this was a series of almost like a virtual portrait gallery dedicated to commemorating men ... it was only men ... of eminence and recording their likeness for posterity. Clearly the ideas ... we can see in this that the ideas of the British National Portrait Gallery which had just been founded with its mandate to venerate people of significance was also filtering into the colony.
So most of Strutt’s commissions ... now there’s a few other ... there’s exceptions to this. This isn’t in the exhibition but this was ... most of his commissions were of prominent public figures rather than private citizens so that connection to Fawkner opened up all sorts of other opportunities for Strutt and so a lot ... there’s exceptions downstairs, the Milane family etc but a lot of them come from this sort of political sphere, these ... that he manages to get most of his work. And in his journal Strutt says that when he first arrived in Australia in 1850 before the discovery of gold, he says commissions for portraits flowed in. But after he returned from New Zealand, after that year in New Zealand, he said it was harder, it was harder to get commissions, stating there was competition but a slender demand for art. So there was more competition basically for a very you know relatively small pie.
Strutt tended to pick up work in a rather ad hoc manner. We can sort of see that he dives on sort of schemes that come to the fore and this is a good example of that so this is ... was commissioned, a very, very large portrait as you can see o the Irish politician, John O’Shanassy commissioned by the Irish community in Melbourne. It’s actually in the ex ... so on the right-hand side it appears. You can get an idea of its scale there and it’s next to Queen Victoria so you can get an idea of kind of the role of these portraits and they are there to kind of you know be uplifting, show these people of eminence. So ... and also again all of it ... he’s gone a bit over the top, I think, in terms of the clutter in the image you know we’re kind of filling it with all these kind of symbols of the fact that he’s working. We’ve got the point in some ways, he’s got ledgers down here, his work in the background, this kind of incongruous sheath of red again in the ... and the classical pillar in the back.
So other things like ... so Melbourne city, and unfortunately these have been ... were destroyed in the fire ... he received ... the Melbourne City Council also established a collection of mayors’ portraits and he painted a couple for them. And similarly we’ve already seen the portrait of Edward Macarthur shown in his full military regalia on his favourite grey, Welcome.
But what Strutt ... and this ... Matt mentioned this at the beginning ... one of the things he really wanted to do was these .. was grand public art schemes and as we ... he made several attempts at it. So the goldrushes had brought wealth and created a richer, increasingly cosmopolitan environment where you would have thought these schemes could come off ... conducive certainly to a much more ... cultural growth. And Victoria had also separated from New South Wales and become a colony in its own right. So there’s this fostering of colonial pride but these factors were not enough to see the realisation of these public art schemes.
Fawkner and Strutt’s first venture was the idea of producing a large oil painting of the opening of the first Victorian Legislative Council in November 1851, a kind of precursor to Tom Roberts’ big picture. In his journal Strutt notes that Fawkner requested him to make such sketches of the opening scenes as would enable me to paint a picture of the event. A special platform was constructed in St Patrick’s Hall so that Strutt could have a clearer view of the gathering. As Heather Kernall notes the artist must have approached this first historical commission with great enthusiasm, remembering this is right back at the time when he’s begun you know just arrived. He would have thought right, here it is, here’s my chance to make his mark but unfortunately the funding was not forthcoming and Strutt blamed the indifference of the principal actors in this historical scene for the demise.
So this is what I’m talk ... the one on the left you know a humble image but big ideas behind it. So this is take 2, the next major event that raised Strutt’s hopes, was the opening of the new Houses of Parliament in November 1856 so five years later. The new Houses of Parliament had appeared quickly on the Melbourne skyline taking only 10 months to construct and the inter ... so I'm showing you a photo on the right-hand side of the interior of the building and that interior was regarded as particularly impressive. In the sketch of the Legislative Council Strutt captures the opulence of the chamber with its towering Corinthian columns and the plush red decorations of the Upper House. He also commissioned with this a photograph of everybody who was there at the opening and he ... with all these protagonists he was hoping that again he could raise money for a large oil painting but the project did not advance beyond preliminary sketches such as this.
Strutt lamented I was compelled to renounce the completion of the picture and let it lapse altogether. And then lastly another thing ... project that he got excited about was the decoration of the new Par ... Houses of Parliament so in that chamber there was a plan or discussion about how ... with ... there could be frescoes put up ... made of Australian historical events. Similar conversations were taking place in England on how to decorate the British Houses of Parliament. This was an era that very much embraced the concept of the galleries of worthies. It’s a little bit foreign to us but these galleries included imaginary portraits where you’d make it up and you’d go back and you’d reconstruct historical events that were deemed worthy of commemoration and regarded as inspirational.
So again this is just a you know not a great dominating image but this here, J P Fawkner settles on the site of Melbourne, 1835 was potentially an ideal subject for a large-scale fresco. Fawkner stands on one side with Eliza so this is him there, Eliza there obviously with the tent and plough symbolising colonisation on that side. On the other side the Aborigines are shown still wrapped in their traditional possum skin cloaks while Eliza tentatively presents a red cloak as barter and John peacefully oversees the negotiations. But the frescoes didn’t come off but Punch again ... once again had a great time making up their own set of cartoons.
So Melbourne Punch found it irresistible and actually produced twelve suggestions of frescoes for the new Parliament House. In this image Fawkner poses as Caesar landing at Port Phillip Bay. Little Johnny is incongruously dressed as the exalted Roman emperor complete with Roman sandals, tunic and laurel wreath imposed next to his standard so complete with the Roman standard. He’s completely self-absorbed and wrapped up in his own sense of importance while in the background the new settlers introduce the Aborigines to ale. Quite a contrast to Strutt’s version of the same scene.
More serious but similar sentiments were expressed in journals such as My Notebook which stated in regard to the frescoes that the subject for these works are better chosen from the history of the old country than this, our new home. A Fawkner statue sounds very much like a burlesque upon the poor fat choleric old gentleman. And the landing of Batman is treated more successfully upon the pages of our caustic friend, Punch, than it would be upon caustic line in the Council Chamber. Such attitudes must have been enormously frustrating for Strutt and Fawkner. They had a vision which their adopted country was not ready to embrace. Those men were ambitious and enterprising, devising and envisaging grand uplifting public art schemes but their plans consistently faltered. Their ideas were regularly dismissed and subject to comic if not amusing derision. Despite repeated ridicule and disappointment their championing of the local visual arts and heroes represents a crucial moment in the history of Australian art. Thank you.
M: Thanks, Elizabeth. Our next speaker today is Dr Chris McAuliffe who is Professor of Art at the School of Art, College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University. He taught art history and theory at the University of Melbourne for 12 years, in 2011/12 he was the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University. From 2000 to 2013 he was the Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne. He is the author of over 130 books, academic papers, articles and reviews on Australian art, rock’n’roll, sport, design and cultural politics. Chris’ talk today will focus on the painting Bushrangers, Victoria, 1852 and how it represent ... and how it reveals Strutt’s persistent interest in colonial governance and progress. Thank you, Chris.
C: Thank you and particularly in the company of Sasha Grisham I have to confess that there’s only a few books in that grand total and Sasha’s you know he’s the king of the mountain. And thanks to you I daresay Strutt nuts for turning up on a Sunday. Now the title of this painting reads something like a catalogue in record which I guess is appropriate in a library. There are a succession of headings here in that title, typological, geographical and temporal that identify and locate the depicted incident, one that took place on the St Kilda to Brighton Road near Little Brighton which we now call Elsternwick on Saturday, 16th of October 1852 so just over 163 years ago this weekend. And there’s a temptation to read the painting as a record as in fact the art critic in The Australian suggested in his review of the exhibition yesterday when he referred to Strutt’s attempt in this painting to establish quote an authentic historical document unquote.
So our question or my question is what kind of history is on offer here in this painting? Now ... good ... when Strutt returned to England in 1862 he styled himself as a witness to colonial development and as an expert on matters Australian. He asserted this repeatedly in his autobiography, in newspaper interviews and as you can see here in these two sketches, in annotations to works. He constantly declared the accuracy and veracity of his depictions of colonial events as you can see and ... on your left ... an absolutely accurate type and on the right getting quite technical, the precise method for holding an Australian stockwhip. Elsewhere he refers to sketches as quote a true scene unquote. And in the case of the Bushrangers he told a reporter, a newspaper reporter in 1913 near the end of his life that quote I was near the spot at the time so all the detail is correct unquote.
This reflected Strutt’s conception of the artist as an observer and he noted in his own manuscript, autobiography quote an artist’s eye and pencil should be collecting matter everywhere unquote. And an artist’s capacities were registered in the skilful delivery of such observations. Artists, Strutt wrote, master the subjects they are about to paint so as to become in a sense expert on each point and feature connected therewith unquote. Strutt’s representation of the 1852 bushranging incident which was referred to in a newspaper as quote the outrages in St Kilda Road is not in fact accurate. There’s some over-dramatisation, no one was killed or wounded in the affair even though there is a bleeding corpse in the mid-ground here and there’s editing for compositional effect. Strutt has 16 victims neatly lined up here, in fact reports of the day list up to 19 and even as many as 40 if you count what appears to be the bushranger’s second round over at Aitken’s Gap near Keilor on the route to the goldfields a couple of days later.
The victims are tied ... were tied together as newspaper reports indicate but they were made to sit in a circle behind bushes, not laid out in this neat panorama of fear and trembling. It was interesting looking at Sasha’s sketch of the goldfield ceremony that Strutt clearly has an eye for that linear layout or exposition. There are important differences between an historical document and a history painting understood in 19th century terms and that’s a general discussion topic that I think traverses all the presentations today. But there’s enough of the letter and the spirit of the reported bushranging event in this painting to suggest that Strutt transcribed or kept newspaper clippings from the day which he later referred to in London, for example if you look on the left-hand side one of the items stolen was a shotgun which you see lying there in the foreground.
The leader was reported to have stood comparatively aloof as you see here and to have concealed his face which is also evident in the painting. And since policing in the day relied on eyewitness testimony there was a reason why you would stand aloof and conceal your face and in fact five men were arres ... well were taken into custody and remanded for trial in relation to this incident but only two were taken to trial and convicted.
Strutt commenced this painting in 1866 in England and exhibited it at the Royal Academy exhibition in the northern summer of 1887 and that prompts some very simple questions, why the belated report 35 years after the crime and 25 years after Strutt had left the colonies? And what did Strutt think an English audience would make of this image? Was the painting really about reportage or something larger? Perhaps the implications of the crime rather than its details.
I don’t think Strutt was simply peddling Australian exotica to a curious audience in the home country. Bushranging was not really a topic of intense interest by 1887 in the UK. Colonial historians and memoirists were playing it down and already declaring bushranging a thing of the past in the 1870s and the Kelly outbreak had been relatively recent culminating in 1880 but it actually surprisingly didn’t really seem to hit the headlines in the UK. And in fact Strutt had already learned the hard way in the case of Black Thursday that English buyers weren’t really interested in large-scale paintings of colonial incident. By 1887 when he commenced the Bushra ... when he completed the Bushrangers painting he had only just managed to sell this painting to an Adelaide art dealer for a fraction of what he thought it was worth.
The answer to my question why bushranging, why in London, why in 1887 lies I think in Strutt’s passion for colonial development which we’ve already heard of in earlier presentations. Arriving in Melbourne in July 1850 he witnessed key events in colonial history, Victoria’s separation from New South Wales, the opening of the Prince’s Bridge, the inaugural legislative councils and state parliaments. And he encountered many of the types who would figure strongly in the formation of Australia’s national mythology, gold-diggers, convicts, bushrangers, pastoral workers, explorers and go-ahead colonial entrepreneurs. And his papers and manuscript autobiography reveal a proud enthusiast for Victoria’s colonial progress. In his autobiography, went so far as to remark that he was witnessing quote the creation of the Victoria of the future unquote and you’ll see in his works repeatedly the depiction of civic works, civic institutions and civic leaders. And Strutt himself was directly engaged in matters of colonial improvement. In fact one of his earliest commissions on arrival in Victoria was the design of an allegorical emblem for the anti-transportation league, opposed to convict transportation, of course, which held its inaugural meeting on the 1st of February 1851. And in 1856 Strutt was a foundation member ... committee member of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts, formed to advance the cause of fine arts in Australasia.
But Strutt also witnessed threats to Victoria’s progress. In particular he was concerned at the social disruption and temptation to criminality ensuing in the gold rush. There was too much money washing around the colony, gold from the diggings and cash to pay the exorbitant prices for basic goods and services. Policing was poorly administered. Immediately after the 16 October 1852 bushranging incident there were major articles in the Melbourne newspapers speaking of quote perfect disorganisation and inefficiency in the police force. In fact going so far as to say that rampant crime was being trifled with and in fact encouraged by the incompetency of the police force. And most fearful of all to Strutt and his colleagues in the Anti-transportation League was the arrival of former convicts from Tasmania in the colony seen as a major threat to public safety.
So the outrages in St Kilda Road in 1852 confirmed all of these fears. The bushrangers were apprehended with at least £102 in cash on their persons along with nuggets, guns and clothing. They were also apprehended with two chickens which the arresting officer informed the judge at trial were quote delicious unquote. So ... so rules of evidence were a little different in the 19th century.
Worst of all when two of the five ringlead ... the two ringleaders of the five bushrangers captured were sent to trial, they turned out to be former Tasmanian convicts. Just as my one aside, just to show how the law worked they were both tried on separate charges of bushranging and theft on the same day by the same jury and sentenced to consecutive terms of 15 years on a road gang which was effectively a death sentence. One of them went on to murder one of his jailers and was hanged.
So while Strutt began with the details of the incident himself the painting I think spoke more generally in 1887 of colonial instability and I read the painting as an allegory of good and bad government. On the left is liquor and cash, weaponry, violence and murder and on the right the good citizenry are terrorised and in typical Victorian allegorical form the good book is abandoned, the tools of industry are cast on the ground. You can see here a blue legal brief bound in a pink ribbon now discarded on the ground, an abandoned clay pipe is about to set a conflagration off and you can just make out here, there’s a big side of beef and even innocent little doggies are tempted into crime. There’s a puppy dog making off with the ham in the corner there. So on your left is bad government, on the right good government but here’s the rub, right in the middle at the pivot of this allegory is virginal Victoria clinging to her husband but playing footsy with the hunky bushranger in the middle. So temptation is afoot in many ways.
So as with all good history painting incident and fact are a stepping off point for moral and political reflection and what was topical in London in 1887 was not ... sorry, perhaps I can just give you a shot at the ... there is the fiendish hound and you know kittens escape, it’s ... won’t someone think of the children? It’s ... in 1887 what was of interest and what was topical in London was not bushrangers but colonial governance. In 1886 Queen Victoria herself had called for the first colonial conference to be held next year, 1887, in London in her jubilee year and the event was staged in April, May of 1887 so Strutt’s Bushrangers would have gone on display at the Royal Academy show almost immediately upon the conclusion of the conference.
Australian politicians were primed for the meeting, a federal council had been formed in Australia in 1885 to address matters of national interest, particularly in the light of German and French colonial expansion in the Pacific. And in London the Colonial Institute had been founded in 1868 and as a consequence of the conference stepped up its advocacy for a consolidated colonial governance, the most extreme form of which was the proposal of the institution of a third house of parliament in the UK which would be a colonial senate with appointed representatives from all the empire colonies. So what was brewing in 1887 was a growing interest in Australian federation and the efforts to maintain or even grow Britain’s colonial interest in Australia in the light of that emerging federation discourse. And at the nub of all of that was governance, could the colonies effectively manage their affairs?
Now Strutt had witnessed the formation of responsible government in Victoria and sketches such as this and others that Elizabeth shows record his impression of the historical moment itself and of course serve as notes of the details for a possible future painting. But what was important or more important to Strutt, I think, as a painter, not as a reporter, was the historical trajectory. He seems to me to be asking in Bushrangers has Victoria learned the lessons of her recent past? Was she heading in the right direction? Would federation and self-government destabilise the nation? So while Strutt’s painting is of a piece with the language of Victorian narrative painting and echoes the romantic historical novels of Scott and Disraeli it is perhaps more than any of his other works a political painting. It’s superficially and in great detail a painting about a specific bushranging incident in the early days of the Victorian colony but Strutt’s question, his challenge to the London audience for this painting and perhaps even directly to attendees to the colonial conference was whether Australia had established its capacity to govern itself.
So just to conclude, history painting is positioned at the fulcrum between the past and the future. Even if it seems to hang on contemporary incident the events depicted become more fully meaningful as a kind of impulse spanning past and future. And an image like this very early one has that same geometry of if you like the past of Aboriginal occupation of the continent and the future, the entrepreneurial colonist and the scroll in the middle reading thusly him to the capacity of the colonists to move forward. So the geometry I would suggest of this painting is quite similar. It’s a commonplace that colonial artists grapple with the question of Australian content, what should Australian artists paint? The critic, Sydney Dickinson, once asked. And it’s equally a commonplace that a lot of early colonial art spoke to a curious British audience back in the home country of colonial prosperity and opportunity. Strutt’s portrait ... Strutt’s Bushrangers I think is distinctive because the Australian content is so specific, it’s to the day and it’s to the stitch in its detail but also because it’s so negative, it’s not a ... it’s not a happy colony in which incidents such as this take place.
By his own measure he’d collected matter for paintings in the colonies in 1852 but by 1887 35 years later he’s not reflecting on where the colonies had been but where they were heading right now in 1887 and that’s the historical consciousness that’s distinctive in history painting properly developed and distinctive I think in the moment of the colonial conference and its surrounding policy debates. This made for a painting that was historical in the sense that it grappled with the historical present and its impact on the future rather than the historical past of 35 years prior. Thanks.
M: Thanks very much, Chris. Okay our next speaker is Dr Richard Bright ... White, pardon me who has recently retired from the University of Sydney where he taught Australian history and the history of travel and tourism from 1989. His publications include Inventing Australia, the Oxford Book of Australian Travel Writing, On Holidays, a history of getting away in Australia, Symbols of Australia and Playing in the bush, the Recreation and National Parks in New South Wales. Current research projects include Touring the Past which examines how tourism engaged with Australia’s past, the History of Australian Tourism to Britain in the 20th Century and a History of the Cooee. He was a Harold White Fellow here at the National Library in 2011. Richard’s talk today will look at how Strutt conceived of history painting in Australia at a time when hardly anyone imagined Australia had any history. He will also consider his work in relation to some others who represented Australia’s past so now I’d like to welcome Richard to come up.
R: Okay, thanks, Matthew, and thanks to the three experts actually who went before me. I’m no expert, I’m certainly not an art historian but I’m coming to look at Strutt obliquely I think from two rather different directions. I think I’ve ...
First, my main research interest at the moment as Matt said is the history of tourism in Australia, seemingly a long way from a 19th century painter but I’m particularly interested in examining what can be called history tourism, that is, tourism activity in which the past is the object of the tourist’s gaze. And one of the questions that intrigues me is when does a country like Australia which throughout the 19th century and at least the first half of the 20th century thought of itself as a new country, when does it begin also to think of itself as old? To think that it has a past worth looking at, experiencing, perhaps even protecting. And in that sort of process of the development of a historical consciousness, among the forces that contribute to Australians’ appreciation of the past were artists.
So what I want to think about is where does Strutt fit into the development of this sort of historical consciousness in Australia? Now I'm going to get quite away from Strutt. I want to suggest one group of artists who were particularly important. So history is for sale, history available for tourists in Australia and that’s also a wonderful poster that’s done in the ‘30s which is ... the 1930s or ‘40s which is when we think of tourism to the past in Australia really taking off. But one group of artists I think was very instrumental in developing this appreciation of the past and that was a group of etching ... etchers working particularly in Sydney. People like Sydney Smith who did a lot of work around Sydney, around the sort of Macquarie towns of Campbelltown and Camden. The Argyle Cup, convict [unclear], the old government stores where the MCA is now. The old [unclear] at Campbelltown which you can actually see on the ... if you’re going to Sydney by train ever look just south of Campbelltown, you can still see that [unclear] there and it was a bit of a landmark, quite a popular you know sort of tourist attraction. There were postcards of it.
Another was a very influential figure, was Hardy-Wilson, who really established an appreciation of Georgian architecture particularly of Sydney and of Melbourne. And again what these artists are doing is creating a middle brow appreciation of the past as an aesthetic experience in Australia. And I think they’re very influential in that. Another is Ireney Moore [?] and I make a claim that this is possibly the first etching of a ruin in Australia, a ru ... the idea of an Australian ruin being seen positively as something you know aesthetically pleasing is significant. And she again did a lot of work in Tasmania and in Canberra too, in historic Canberra and in the sort of hinterland of Sydney. And Lionel Lindsay as well, again painting or etching old Sydney, influenced by Charles Miriam, the sort of great French etcher and he actually calls is home ... Lindsay calls his home Miriam. And there’s Sydney under the Ancien regime in 1916. Again the Argyle Cup in Sydney, old Government House. One of the things is ... a number of them etched Old Government House as it was falling down and they became great supporters of conservation in Australia because they actually watched a historic building like government [unclear] Government House in Windsor collapse and disappear. Coaching days invented pasts. Elizabeth Farm, now of course a historic site. Ben Hall and we’ll come back to Bushrangers, of course. Ben Hall’s Cottage.
Now what these works are doing I think are helping to train Australians to see the vestiges of the past as aesthetically pleasing and I think that’s a major achievement in many ways. They promoted the pleasures of visiting historic towns such as Windsor and Richmond, Campbelltown and Camden and Tasmania and they taught tourists that what they thought perhaps were dilapidated eyesores could be considered romantic ruins, that the old-fashioned could be charming and picturesque, that the out-of-date was quaint. And it is essentially middle brow and etching at the time was very much a sort of middle brow ... provided to a middle brow market. But it was making the past acceptable to a middle class audience at a time when really the people who were interested in the past were rather disreputable people interested in things like convicts and bushrangers, right? A past that Australia ... that respectable Australia often was trying to suppress. It was an acceptable past that could be found in this sort of work.
Now previous ... a few previous etchers had dabbled, Livingston Hopkins did a few interesting etchings of the rocks and actually Uwa [?] Smith bought Hopkins’ etching press. And Ireney Moore taught Uwa Smith etching. Fullwood [unclear] Fullwood’s Black Horse Inn was an interesting one because this was a historic inn and he did this to make money because it was a very popular honeymoon spot and he thought you know an etching of your honeymoon location might sell well but it didn’t do all that well. But some of the Heidelberg School dabbled in you know the quaintness of the old inn or the old stables and of course Tom Roberts also found a historic bushranger of interest.
But the thing that I think about some of these other artists was that often their work was nonspecific. The thing about these etchers of the 1910s was that they were often painting specific places that you could go and see and I think that was what sort of was promoting tourism. But generally up until that time the past in respectable opinion was even invisible, particularly for English visitors, I mean they tended not to see the past. But also the authorities who were intent on attracting to Australia migrants, attracting investment, finding markets for Australian goods, they had a particular aversion to representations of Australia that concentrated on convicts or bushrangers or on natural disasters. And I think this is why Strutt is a particularly interesting figure in this because he really is ahead of his time and out of step I think with respectable opinion.
It’s interesting I think that you know while respectable opinion was tending to suppress the past, while British visitors to Australia tended to talk about the you know the future of Australia but ignore the past and politely you know didn’t mention convicts, Mark Twain when he visited in Australia he was a great enthusiast for the past but he was coming from America, of course, where ... another country that had recently invented if you like its history. And he had that marvellous passage where he you know went head over heels about the interest of Australia’s history. And he particularly marvelled at the fact that thinking of Fawkner, and we’ll come back to him ... Elizabeth has dealt with him ... that Melbourne’s, he said, first brick was laid and its first house built by a passing convict. And then there’s the famous passage, Australian history is almost always picturesque. Indeed it is so curious and strange that it itself is the chiefest novelty the country has to offer and so it pushes the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like history but like the most beautiful lies and it is all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones, it is full of surprises and adventures and incongruities and contradictions and incredibilities but they are all true, they all happened.
And that of course brings us to Strutt ‘cause it took quite an act of imagination for someone in the 1850s to be thinking of Australia as having a history worth painting. Now I suppose if we asked what Strutt contributed to the development of national consciousness the answer would be not a lot because I mean as we’ve seen the reception of Strutt’s work in Australia was very, very disappointing. But just the fact that you know so well versed in the tradition of history painting as it had developed by the mid-19th century in Britain and France Strutt came to look at Australia as having a history. And looking at the things that were happening around him such as Black Thursday as being significant for the history of the future. In his journal he later wrote that I can never forget the morning of that scorching Thursday, ever after memorable in the annals of the colony as Black Thursday. So he’s constantly thinking in terms of a historical sort of framework of what’s happening around him.
But as we know, as we’ve heard there wasn’t much interest in ... and what was happening around him in turning the present into history and I think it’s you know even something as respectable as the opening of the first Legislative Council and then the Legislative Assembly didn’t attract you know the subscriptions he was hoping for from the members themselves. His connections with Fawkner, I mean Fawkner was quite a controversial figure in Melbourne partly because of his disreputable connections you know the son of convict, married to a convict and I mean it’s fascinating that Fawkner you know has such an interest in promoting a history but of course it’s a history that he hopes to be able to massage. And you know reinvent.
Of course the deaths of Burke and Wills was a respectable topic, explorers were a respectable topic for history but again even the ... yeah, even you know Burke, I mean when Strutt was making those sketches and so on in 1860 as the expedition was leaving, I mean it was seen as a great historic moment. And you know it was going to be a successful expedition. Its failure was something that was crucially embarrassing to ... particularly to the proud colony of Victoria so even you know even to some extent you know they are somb ... it’s a sombre history that he’s painting. In a way this is a much more positive view of history, this is much more the history that you might have expected to be coming out. This is part of the Gilbey bequest for a history painting and I mean this is the authorised version and I can remember this painting in school you know or a reproduction of it, actually. The other painting from the John ... the Gilbey bequest was again the Death of Burke and Wills but it’s a heroic thing.
That’s what makes I think as Chris has shown this painting so remarkable ‘cause bushranger ... bushranging or bushranger tourism of course is a given today ... I mean Glenrowan... but also I mean you know it’s interesting how Captain Moonlite’s grave has now become something of a tourist site for gay tourism because Moonlite wanted to be buried next to his gay partner and that was a ... that only happened ... oh a decade or so ago. And it’s now you know something of a, you know, a revived tourist site. So the remarkable thing about this I think is that Strutt recognises I think bushranging as entertainment and that’s the point of tourism, tourism itself is entertainment. And the interest that ... if you like the disreputable vulgar rabble had in things like bushranging and in convicts were that it was entertaining and this is one of the wonderful ... most wonderful images I’ve found from Tourists at Trivale [?] Jail you know have ... playing convicts and having you know a bit of S and M.
Okay, I mentioned at the outset that I had a second interest in Strutt. Another historic moment ... and I’ll be very brief now .. another historic moment that he represented in art was the lost child story, the story of the Duff children who were ... got lost but were ... after nine days were found with Aboriginal trackers coming on-board and finding them. This is a sketch of a painting that he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1865 based on a true story that took place the year before.
Then in 1876 he began writing and illustrating a fictionalised account of this story of the lost children which wasn’t completed until 1901 and sold to a magazine but then wasn’t published until the National Library itself published it. And again you know he says ... as Chris was saying you know his emphasis on the true story. I mean it was a true story, recorded in many a newspaper and it long seemed to me that they deserve a more permanent record. My interest in it of course beca ... I have this interest in the History of Cooee was that they were found with a cooee. But this is also where I think the grand national history can get very personal ‘cause in Strutt’s autobiography he recounts the time that ... when he was in New Zealand with his young family in 1855, they were afraid their daughter had got lost in the bush, she’d just been obscured by a building but we called, he said, we called and cooeed but for a time without success or answer. At last her voice was heard responding to our call and we were immensely relieved. But that relationship between the grand, national story that Strutt was constantly trying to produce and his personal relationships I think was also there. Okay, thank you.
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