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Tag Archives: Tom Roberts

Bushrangers in Australian Art

During the gold rush colonial artists, including S. T. Gill, Frederick Grosse and George Lacy, were depicting bushrangers in ink sketches, watercolours and engravings. Bushrangers soon became an enduring theme in Australian art.

Patrick Marony, Death of Ben Hall, 1894

Another attempt to capture the bushranger theme was made by the artist and cartoonist, Patrick William Marony, aka Nick O’Tine. Marony was born in Curragh, Ireland in 1858 and after studying at a seminary he arrived in Australia around 1883. In 1884 he exhibited sixteen large oil paintings and a number of smaller paintings of bushrangers in the cities of Orange and Sydney.

On Thursday 29 March 1984 the National Advocate, reported on Marony’s exhibition in Orange and praised the accuracy of his landscapes, noting that Marony visited the location for the Death of Captain Starlight.

Reporting on Marony’s exhibition at the Strand Arcade in Sydney Freeman’s Journal, Saturday 30 June 1984, noted: “Apart from the technical merits of the pictures they should be of interest to Australians, as being the first attempts to show the condition of the colony during the reign of terror.”

Marony lived between the end of history paintings in oils and the beginning of cinematic versions of history. Around 1911 he wrote the story for the silent film, Ben Hall, Notorious Bush Ranger, also known as A Tale of the Australian Bush.

In 1887 William Strutt painted Bushrangers on the St Kilda Road. His large oil painting was based on a robbery that had taken place thirty-five years earlier when four men stopped, bailed-up and robbed seventeen travellers on the St Kilda to Brighton Road. Strutt’s painting is like a Charles Dickens’ novel, full of engaging characters; however his bare, flat, desert landscape looks nothing like the scrubby, rolling hills of St Kilda that existed at the time.

In 1895, Tom Roberts painted two bushranger paintings: In a corner on the Macintyre (Thunderbolt in an encounter with police at Paradise Creek) and an epic painting of a stage coach being robbed, Bailed up when he was staying at Newstead, a station near Inverell in New South Wales. Roberts was more interested in combining the romance of crime with the rugged beauty of the Australian landscape than in accurately depicting events that had taken place thirty years earlier; although the model for the stagecoach driver, ‘Silent Bob Bates’ had been held up by Captain Thunderbolt, aka Frederick Wordsworth Ward.

Marony’s transition from painting to cinema highlights the similar aesthetics of 19th century painting and 20th century movies. Marony’s “accuracy of landscape”, Strutt’s cast of characters and Robert’s romance of crime and landscape are all familiar features of movies.

Although depictions of bushrangers diminished one particular bushranger, Ned Kelly, continued to be depicted in modern, contemporary and street art in Australia; from Sidney Nolan to Adam Cullen to HaHa.

Ha Ha Ned Kelly 2017


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Capon needs a Spanking

“The Art of Australia” is a three-part series television documentary by ABC presented by Edmund Capon. Part one, “Strangers In A Strange Land”, was a disappointing start presenting the same old story of 19th Century Australian colonial art. The couple of references to some contemporary art in an attempt to freshen this stale history didn’t help or hinder. There was too much about landscape art emphasizing the traditional view of Australian art as all about the landscape. Capon’s narrative is full of too much hyperbole, clichéd metaphors (describing Australia as “coming of age” as if a country is a person with a body, heart and head) and contradictions.

Australia can’t be defined as Capon tries as “a unique and diverse culture” because one (unique) cannot be many (diverse). The assumption of the documentary is that Australia has an Australia art, when in the 19th Century the British and Australian art world was basically the same. Capon only examines the art of Melbourne, Sydney and Tasmania as if the history of the SE corner of Australia is representative of the rest of Australia. How art and artists helped to shape Australia’s national identity is assumed rather than demonstrated; if art in anyway shaped Australia’s national identity it played a very minor role.

Capon avoids saying anything negative; he avoids the using the word ‘genocide’ to describe the attempted extermination of Tasmanian aboriginals and he avoids the mentioning the Australian banking crisis of 1893.

To describe the Heidelberg School as painting “Australia as it was” ignores the fact that Tom Roberts painted the romanticism of the manual shearing technology in 1890 when mechanical shearing had already been superseded in 1888 with the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine. Although Roberts rebelled against Eugene Von Guérard at the National Gallery Art School he apparently absorbed romanticism from his former teacher. Capon’s description of Robert’s Shearing the Rams as an “icon” is made apparently oblivious to the religious meaning of the word.

Edmund Capon was Director of the Art Gallery of NSW and his expertise is in Chinese art. Capon needs a spanking as an embarrassing punishment for his sloppy thinking in this glib and very ordinary history of art in Australia.

Two and a half stars.


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