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Light and Space: Colonial Art and Queensland

Erin's home, Boggo Queensland 1876

C.G.S. Hirst
c.1826 -1890
Erin's home, Boggo Queensland 1876
Watercolour on paper
41 x 61.5cm
Purchased 2003. The Queensland Government's Special Centenary Fund

Light and Space: Colonial Art and Queensland

28 June – 19 October 2008, Gallery 14 QAG

This display features key themes explored in Australian art throughout the nineteenth century, and shows the variety of ways that new sites and settlements were pictured.
Exploration voyages to Australia brought the first European artists here, where they recorded various locations, and the appearance of Indigenous peoples. William Westall, the first artist to depict Queensland, documented coastal sites during Matthew Flinders’, circumnavigation of Australia in 1803. French artists also recorded Australian sites. They were followed by others who were more straightforwardly scientific, such as John Gould (1804–53), who depicted plants, animals and birds found by European explorers and settlers, and Sylvester Diggles, a noted ornithologist and an important figure in the early cultural development of Brisbane between 1854 and his death in 1880.
During the early period of Brisbane settlement, sketches of local sites were frequently produced — in those days, drawing was considered an essential part of a liberal education; later, itinerant artists would become increasingly significant. Conrad Martens’s visit to Moreton Bay in 1851, when he documented the development of the rich Darling Downs, was especially important. However, the principal visual resources for most Queenslanders throughout the nineteenth century were illustrated papers, magazines and engravings and, increasingly, the novel medium of photography.
By the 1880s, when Brisbane was increasing in size, artists established art schools and fostered audiences for art. JA Clarke (1840–90) — whose Panorama of Brisbane is shown here — was largely responsible for the establishment of the Brisbane Technical College in 1882, and was its first art master. The 1880s also saw the arrival of the Swede, Oscar Friström, the Englishman, Isaac Walter Jenner, and the German, LWK Wirth, who founded the Queensland Art Society in 1887. As you can see from this display, landscape was by far the dominant subject in art of the time.
The ‘father figure’ of art in Queensland was undoubtedly Englishman Richard Godfrey Rivers, who advocated for the establishment of the Queensland Art Gallery in 1895. From then on, with training and exhibition opportunities available to them, Queensland’s artists developed careers in Australia in the early twentieth century; some, including Bessie Gibson and Harold Parker, also established reputations in Europe.