Joseph Lycett: convict artist, the first exhibition to examine the life and work of this significant but elusive figure of Australian colonial life, opens at the National Library on March 1.  

The exhibition, initiated by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, in partnership with the National Library of Australia and the State Library of New South Wales, pieces together the remarkable story of a man torn between life as an artist and life as a criminal.

A convict transported for forgery, Joseph Lycett (c.1775–1828) arrived in Australia in 1814, later emerging as one of the colony’s most accomplished artists. Amongst the most important visual records of early New South Wales and Tasmania, his work documents Aboriginal life and culture, landscape and flora, and the towns of colonial Australia.

 “This is the first exhibition devoted exclusively to Lycett’s life and work and presents a new interpretation and appreciation of the early colonial landscape he captured,” said Martin Terry, the National Library’s curator, one of four curators who collaborated to develop the exhibition.  

“Lycett was an astute observer of aboriginal life. An exhibition highlight is one of his very early works – a large oil painting of a moonlit corroboree at Newcastle painted around 1818.

“We’re pleased to have on display only in Canberra the captivating watercolour View of Lake George, New South Wales, from the North East. This painting is one of 54 works in the exhibition from the National Library’s collection,” Martin Terry said.

The exhibition features watercolour landscapes in and around Sydney painted during his time in the colony (1814–1822), delicate botanical watercolours, and a series of unique watercolours depicting the Aboriginal people of the Newcastle and Sydney regions.  

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Joseph Lycett: convict artist, National Library of Australia

1 March – 27 May 2007, open daily 9am – 5 pm, Exhibition Gallery, free



Wednesday 14 March, 12.30 pm and Wednesday 16 May, 12.30 pm

Exhibition Gallery, free