Art in Australia has a long history. It goes back to at least 30,000 years with Aboriginal art. The colonisation of Australia has been greatly influenced by European modernism since the early colonists were mostly born in England or France.
Here are presented four of these early artists, all born outside Australia but coming here to make this their home. It was an exciting and turbulent time, both in Australia and in Europe, and these artists have left us with some idea as to what life was like in those times as well as some beautiful artwork.
John Glover 1767 – 1849 Father of Australian Landscape Painting.
John Glover was born in Leicester, England – he didn’t arrive in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) until his 64th birthday in 1831. Yet he has been dubbed “the Father of Australian landscape painting”.
His English years
John was born the youngest son to William Glover and his wife Anne who were farmers. As a youngster, he worked in the fields and developed a love for nature. His abilities in calligraphy led him to the Free School, Appleby, where he taught writing and started painting watercolours and oils. He also took lessons in London, got himself married, and moved to Lichfield in 1794. He set up as a drawing master and visited scenic places such as Cumberland, Derbyshire and Wales where he sketched and drew.
He exhibited at the Royal Academy – but watercolours were badly displayed and in 1804, he became a founder member of the “Society of Painters in Water-Colours”. The first exhibition there was a resounding success and enabled Glover to move to London – but he still travelled, seeking out beautiful places to paint.
He became more interested in oil paintings and exhibited large oil paintings at the British Institution in 1810 until 1827.
He meets a king
This was a turbulent time in Europe with Napoleon rampaging across countries and the execution of the French King Louis XVI. After the overthrown of Napoleon, Louis’s brother, who had escaped to Belgium, became king Louis XVIII, (the young son of the former king having been imprisoned in solitary isolation, eventually dying alone and uncomforted).
There was a brief period when Napoleon returned to power – the “100 days” – and Louis fled again to Belgium returning when Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo, in 1814.
During the 100 days, Glover visited Paris where his exhibit caught the attention of King Louis XVIII. He was awarded the Louis XVIII gold medal (for ‘Bay of Naples’).
Glover spent a couple of years in the beautiful Lake District and you can see his paintings of the local scenery. He also visited Italy and had his own permanent exhibition in London.
Van Diemen’s Land – at last
Three of his sons relocated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1829, acquired land and were joined by their parents three years later. He called his new property “Patterdale” after a pretty English Lakeland village where he had once lived.
Here, his family developed the property, eventually owning over 7,000 acres. John Glover painted the local scenes and by 1835, he was able to send no less than 68 pictures showing Van Diemen’s Land, illustrating the customs. Then in 1846, he exhibited another collection for the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute.
But he was growing older and spent time reading religious literature, he no longer painted much. He painted his last major work when he was 70 years old. He died at his home, Patterdale in December 1849.
He had a large family, and his wife outlived him by six years, dying at the ages of 95.
At first, he produced many, many watercolours but later became more interested in oil painting. He developed a technique using grey tints with little colour, trying to capture the misty atmosphere of his adopted home in Tasmania. He used a split- brush for the depiction of foliage and noted that ‘there is a remarkable peculiarity in the Trees of this Country; however numerous they rarely prevent you tracing through them the whole distant country’. His work depicts the English countryside in watercolours and then the contrasting techniques in Tasmanian oils, although the actual atmospheres are similar, so his style has an interest in the contrasting way of depicting scenery. He demonstrated the effect of the Tasmanian light – contrasting it with the darker hues of the English paintings.
They also give us a record of how the times were just 170 years ago. But this idyllic picture of the untamed indigenous people was at variance with the brutal and violent seizing of their land by the incomers.
The English Claude
He wanted to be recognised as ‘English Claude’, and you can see echoes of Claude in his work. By the “English Claude”, he meant the French seventeenth-century artist Claude Lorrain. English tourists doing the fashionable Grand Tour collected Lorrain’s works, which was influential in the evolving English style of painting.
His art fetches good prices. In fact, probably the highest price for Tasmanian art was one of his oil paintings which fetched $149,000 in 1914. This was for “Needwood Forest” which shows an English country scene but was painted in Tasmania in 1836.
To celebrate Glover’s contribution to Australian art the John Glover Society was established in 2001 and a life-sized statue unveiled in 2003. There is also an annual Glover Prize.
You can find Glover’s work in many art galleries throughout Australia. His home, which he often painted, was restored and listed as a heritage site ‘Patterdale and Nile Farm’. In fact, his recognition is amazing when you consider that he didn’t even come to Tasmania until he was 64 years old.
Benjamin Duterrau (2 March 1768 – 11 July 1851) History Painter.
Benjamin Duterrau was another well-established English painter, etcher, engraver, sculptor and art lecturer who emigrated to Tasmania. There he became known for his images of Indigenous people and Australian history paintings.
Early years in England
He was born in Soho in London, and was of mixed French and English descent. It is probable that his first language was French, despite living in England. His father was a watchmaker so it seemed natural that his son should be apprenticed to an engraver. In 1790, he made two coloured stipple engravings, Farmer’s Door and The Squire’s Door.
He became interested in painting and between 1817 and 1823, six of his portraits were displayed in Royal Academy exhibitions.
So, when at the age of 65, he and his daughter finally arrived in Hobart, Van Dieman’s land (now Tasmania), he was a well-established artist and he made his living as a painter of portraits.
In 1833, he gave a lecture about art – the first colonial to do so. Two years later, he was creating etchings of the indigenous Australians – again – a first. These were real to life – not whitewashing the political situation of the time. You can see his most famous painting, The Conciliation, in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. This is the first “history” painting attempted in Australia. You can also find there a self-portrait and other items of his.
As well as this, he painted a large landscape which is in the Beattie collection at Launceston and other works in the Dixon collection in Sydney.
His death and heritage
Duterrau died in Hobart at the age of 83. His gravestone is preserved in the Hobart Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
He has left us with an accurate and authentic historic glimpse of early colonial lives.
Louisa Anne Meredith 1812 – 1895 Writer and Illustrator
Louisa Anne Meredith (also known as Louisa Anne Twamley), was another English born Australian artist. But her life and contributions are very different from the others – in that she was a woman.
Her early years
Born in Birmingham, England, and educated mainly by her mother, Louisa was a writer who illustrated her own books and poems. Her early works of poetry and prose illustrated her life in England, including An autumn ramble on the Wye.
Marriage and Tasmania
She married her cousin, Charles Meredith, in Birmingham and sailed with him to New South Wales in 1839. Charles had moved to Tasmania in 1821, later moving to Canberra as a squatter. His land had plummeted in value with the economic depression, so they moved to Tasmania – and Louisa wrote about their first eleven years in two books, Notes and Sketches of New South Wales (1844), and My Home in Tasmania (1852).
In 1860, she published Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania in which she produced full-colour illustrations, printed by the new chromolithography process. She continued to publish and illustrate books depicting flowers, scenery and animals and even went to London to oversee the Bush Friends in Tasmania.
Later difficult years
Sadly, this voyage, the depressed economic situation plus the collapse of her bank were a financial disaster for her, and her health also deteriorated.
She suffered from chronic sciatica and became blind in one eye in her later years. She died in Melbourne in 1851 at the age of 83, survived by two sons. In addition to her writing and art, Louisa and her husband were interested in politics and she persuaded her husband to work towards preserving the native wildlife and scenery.
She has left us with some charming illustrations and accounts of contemporary life both in England and Australia. Her work shows a different aspect of art, as illustrating written accounts and adding greatly to their appeal and value. You can find samples of her work in libraries in the State Library of Tasmania.
Haughton Forrest- 1826 – 1925 Painter of Sailing Ships
If you want to know what a sailing vessel really looked like, then this is the artist for you. He focussed on landscapes and seascapes.
An exciting childhood
Haughton’s father was an equerry to Queen Victoria, and he was a member of parliament for many years. Yet, they were living in France where Forrest was born. He was one of ten children. They fled from the second French revolution in 1830. The family lived in Jamaica for a while, owning a sugar plantation and slaves, who had to wait till 1838 for full emancipation. He later attended a military academy in Wiesbaden.
Lucky escapes – and marriage
He became a commissioned officer in the army and in 1858, he married Henrietta Bunce. They settled in the South of England and he took up sailing. It seems he also taught himself to paint. He left the army and avoided the Crimea War. He had another lucky escape when a friend dissuaded him from joining the ill-fated Franklin expedition, searching for the North-West Passage. He joined the civil service.
Hobart – eventually
They tried Brazil – but didn’t like it so eventually, they came to Tasmania in 1876, after hearing glowing reports. He worked at various jobs, including that of Superintendent of Police but in 1881, they moved to Hobart and he became a full-time artist.
He was a prolific worker producing over 3,000 works of art. The first set of Australia’s pictorial stamps, produced in 1899, used his paintings of Mount Wellington and Hobart which he had based of John Watt Beattie’s photographs.
Death and heritage
Forrest died at Melton Mowbray in 1925, having lived an exciting and active life till the end. Many of his paintings hang in Tasmanian and other Australian art galleries.
He was renowned for the accuracy of his paintings of sailing vessels, and Edward Prince of Wales bought some of his work. In Australia, his work was equally noticed and valued, although it is only in recent years that his status has again been recognised. You can find many of his works for sale, the depictions of ships generally fetching less than the scenery paintings.
For example, the oil painting of the Cascade Rivulet recently fetched AUD27,000, and View of Government House was sold for AUD95,500.
Although these people lived and worked only one to two hundred years ago, their life was so very different from ours, with their own wars, conquests, social and financial problems. It is good to have records of their times and to be able to view their paintings, drawings and etchings. Both from the artistic view and the historic one, they are well worth browsing through.