Australia is rich in art, and many fine artists have lived and grown up here. They produced varied styles of work and used various media, but the scenery was a popular subject, with the mountains, rivers and coast of Tasmania providing some beautiful subjects. Portraiture was also popular, providing us with delightful glimpses of the local inhabitants.
Three of the following four artists were born in Australia. They were some of the earliest artists who were not Immigrants from Britain and France. We start with the first important Australian born artist, William Piguenit.
William Piguenit 1836- 1914 First Australian-born Leading Artist
Quiet and unassuming as man, William Piguenit became recognised as the first leading Australian born landscape painter. He had a real love of mountains and travelled widely to find dramatic scenery to paint.
Frederick Piguenit- his father
William Piguenit was the eldest son of Frederick Le Geyt Piguenit and his wife Mary Ann. Frederick was from Huguenot background, but he had been found guilty of receiving government goods and sentenced to 14 years transportation.
Frederick was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1830 and Mary Ann followed him. Three years later, they married in Hobart. Frederick worked as a clerk in the convict department but received a free pardon in 1842. Mary Ann was from a good family and it was she who first influenced her young son’s artistic talents. She started a school for young ladies where the students were taught “French, music and drawing”.
William’s early life
William Charles Piguenit (1836-1914), was born in Hobart Town. His mother was the first influence on the boy’s love of drawing.
When he was only 14 years old, he started working on the Geological Survey of Tasmania, as a draftsman with the Tasmanian Lands & Survey Department. He produced six lithographic illustrations for The Salmon Ponds and Vicinity, New Norfolk. Frank C Dunnett, an immigrant from Scotland, gave him painting lessons, where he was praised for the quality of his penmanship, his mapping and drawing. However, he wasn’t a very successful artist – at first.
But things changed when Sir Andrew Agnew, Premier of Tasmania, bought one of his paintings and paid well. This encouraged Piguenit to leave his job in 1872 and become a fulltime artist.
He painted Tasmanian landscapes and had good reviews. He was involved in exploring and surveying western Tasmania, so his work has a historic value, illustrating the newly opened up countryside.
Two years later, he visited the Gordon River and painted the Arthur Range, Lake Pedder and Hell’s Gate. Then in 1887, the government bought six of his works, under a special act of Parliament, illustrating the Western Highlands, (now in the Hobart Gallery).
Unassuming and retiring, he shrank from controversy and quietly resigned from the Art Society of New South Wales when it split over the impressionist movement. The first Australian-born artist of note, he delighted in mountain scenery and often chose dramatic subjects for his painting. In 1901, one of his finest canvases, ‘Thunderstorm on the Darling’ won the Wynne prize.
In 1880, he moved to New South Wales, living in Hunters Hill, Sydney. Here, he painted local scenery, rivers including paintings of the Darling, the Hawkesbury and the Lane Cove rivers. He exhibited at the New South Wales Academy of Arts and travelled to many places to paint to gain the best vantage points for his work. His travels took him to the South Coast of NSW as well as the western coast of Tasmania. He became a founder member of the Art Society of New South Wales.
Some of his travels
He revisited Tasmania where the governor’s wife liked his paintings and the government bought many of his drawings, for the Hobart Gallery. And the Art Gallery of New South Wales bought his Flood in the Darling.
He visited Europe in 1898 and 1900, where he exhibited paintings in Paris and London. Back in Australia, he won the Wynne Prize for Thunder Storm on the Darling and the National Art Gallery of New South Wales commissioned him to paint Mount Kosciusko. In fact, he was now considered to be Australia’s leading Australian landscape painter and won several gold medals. He was respected for the accurate yet sensitive illustrations of nature.
William Piguenit’s death
William Piguenit died at his home in Hunters Hill in 1914, ten days after an appendectomy. He was 77 years old and unmarried. He was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery.
John Watt Beattie 1859 – 1930 “The Finest Landscape Photographer of his Age”
John Watt Beattie came early to Tasmania with his parents. Although he was born in Scotland, all his work was done in Australia. His father was a photographer and John followed his footsteps, making many expeditions and working full-time as a photographer from 1882 on.
He admired the work of Piguenit, and sought out similar romantic scenes, giving us a visual image of Tasmania in those early days. Indeed, he stressed the beautiful aspects of the scenery. He made prints, lantern slides and albums, and a set of stamps was based on his work.
Beattie’s interest in history
Beattie was fascinated by local history and his museum displayed a wide variety of material illustrating this. He had a special interest in the convicts and Aboriginal people. He became the colony’s official photographer in 1896 and worked to increase tourism in his area – his museum was a prime attraction. He was also a popular lecturer with a collection of slides he made, with a detailed commentary, for wider distribution.
In 1890, he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Tasmania and in 1896, he was appointed as official photographer to the Tasmanian Government.
His historical recreations may not always have been 100% accurate but he did write about the brutal confrontations of the Europeans with the Aboriginal people. He wanted to conserve the native flora and fauna, yet still mine for minerals. And he joined with others in establishing a historical and geographic section of the Royal Society of Tasmania in 1899.
In 1912, he developed plates for Roald Amundsen’s epic trek to the South Pole. In his later years, family portraits became more dominant in his work and in 1927, the Launceston Corporation bought for much of his work, paying him £4500 – and you can see them in the Tasmanian Museum, Hobart, together with other slides. His business is still selling his work.
His Death and Heritage
But in 1930, his heart gave up and he died suddenly. However, his work is still to be found in museums and art galleries as well as auctions. These early photographs were the first technical ways to depict people and scenery without drawing or painting them, and as such, are historically of considerable interest.
Jack Carrington Smith 1908 – 1972 Perhaps the Most Important Twentieth Century Australian Artist
Jack Smith was born in Launceston, Tasmania. He chose to add “Carrington” to his name in 1936 when he visited London on a travelling scholarship.
He was determined to be an artist and when he was fifteen, he had two watercolours accepted by the Launceston Art Society. In 1925, he took himself to Sydney, where he worked as a clerk and attended night classes at the East Sydney Church Grammar School. Only three years later, he was able to support himself as a commercial artist.
He married Ruth Tait Walker in 1934 and about this time, he became recognised as an artist, exhibiting with the Society of Arts. In 1936, he won a travelling scholarship, so he was able to go to London and study at the Royal Academy of Arts, and also in Paris.
Carrington Smith returned to Australia, enthusiastic about the post-impressionism he had seen in Europe and held his first one-man exhibition in Sydney.
Back in Tasmania
He became head of the art department in Launceston Technical College, and then Hobart Technical College. Eventually, in 1963, his department was moved to the old university building on Queen’s Domain, and renamed the Tasmanian School of Art, thus fulfilling a long-held ambition.
He based his teaching on a firm foundation of drawing skills – then the “music” of colour, line and tone was added – forming a distinctive school of Tasmanian “watercolourists”.
He also produced many oil paintings from simple scenic scapes to the haunting night-time scenes and later more abstract works. But he was most noted for his portraits in which he strove to reveal the inner life of his subjects.
He was much respected, although quiet and shy himself. He did travel abroad between 1964-1967, but he found greater freedom for his art in Tasmania. He taught, he had administrative duties but he also gave many exhibitions and won prizes such as the Sir John Sulman prize (1949), the Archibald Prize (1963) and many others.
Carrington Smith died in 1972 at Sandy Bay. He left us with a huge number of artistic works, displayed in every major art gallery in Australia. Many people consider him to be the most important Tasmanian painter of the twentieth century.
Max Angus (1914 – 2017) Water Colourist of Tasmanian Landscapes
Max Angus was an Australian Post-war & Contemporary artist who was born in Hobart in 1914. When he left school he worked as a sign painter while studying art at evening classes. He was very versatile, his work included painting murals on Hobart buildings, painting labels for crates, designing Christmas cards and making sets for the opera stage.
The Order of Australia
But he had a passion for local scenery, and he preferred watercolours to other media. He achieved recognition for his work and was awarded a member of the Order of Australia. This order of chivalry was first created by Queen Elizabeth ll in 1975 to pay tribute to Australian citizens of outstanding merit, previously, Australians had to make do with British orders!
He married Thedda Corrigan, and they had a son, Peter, both of whom survived him when he died at the grand age of 102. You will notice that in almost all his pictures he wears a beret – and he was noted for his storytelling and wit.
Angus was a prolific artist with a long career. During his time, he produced thousands of paintings and had exhibited his work many, many times. His work is to be found on auction sites with typical prices ranging from 500 AUD to just over 1000 AUD.
These four artists are just a sample of the rich and varied art being produced in Tasmania at this time. All very different in style and technique, yet all depicting the wonderful Tasmanian scenery, for us all to enjoy in the many art galleries and museums displaying their works.