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Centre for Art and Travel Workshop: Investigating the Archive

National Maritime Museum

20 October 2006

Going to the Pictures in Australia

Professor Michael Rosenthal, University of Warwick

For the past decade or so I have, when able, been working, through the archives of mainly drawings and watercolours, held in Australian collections.  These have been principally at the National Library, the Mitchell Library in Sydney, and the Allport Library and Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart, but I've worked in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, too.  The impetus came from the publications of Bernard Smith.  First there was European Vision and the South Pacific, then, in 1988, Yale published four volumes of the art of the Cook voyages, and The Art of the First Fleet. The latter book permitted me to introduce students to the person or persons Bernard dubbed The Port Jackson Painter, and remind them that British art occasionally happened outside Britain.  Then, I spent Easter 1993 on a reconnaissance trip, to get an idea of the holdings in Canberra and Sydney, mainly.  Treated, as has always been the case, with great kindness by curators who must have thought they had a crazy on their hands, I discovered that the collections were both immense, and pretty much unresearched.  A Harold White Fellowship gave me three months at the National Library in 1994, and since then I have, thanks in large part to the generosity of the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, been going back to the pictures in Australia whenever I have had the chance.

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