Stories from the Royal Society of Tasmania Art Collection
10. John Skinner Prout’s Tasmania Illustrated, Vol 1 – Part 1
Article prepared by the RST Honorary Curator, Dr Anita Hansen, for the November 2022 RST Newsletter
This month’s article will be the first piece about John Skinner Prout’s Tasmania Illustrated, Vol 1. (the first five lithographs). The next exciting instalment will be in December’s Newsletter!:
John Skinner Prout (1805–1876)
In January 1844 Van Diemen’s Land was visited by an artist who would prove to have quite an impact on the art of the young colony – this was John Skinner Prout.
Prout (1805–1876), was born at Plymouth England. He was the nephew of the artist Samuel Prout (1783–1852). Although he was largely self-taught as an artist, he was reasonably successful and was elected a member of the new Society of Painters in Water Colour.
In December 1840, Prout, his wife Maria and their seven children moved to Sydney where his brother already lived. Prout had brought with him from England equipment which would enable him to produce lithographic prints of his works for sale both in the colony as well as in England. He published Sydney Illustrated (images from that in a later article).
A little over three years later Prout made that visit to Hobart Town in January 1844. Much impressed he went back to Sydney for his family and arrived at Hobart Town in April of that year.
His initial foray into giving painting lectures was not a very auspicious affair judging by the report in the Colonial Times in May that year.
However, Prout must have contacted them and the next review was published a short time later. Looking back now it was a somewhat humorous article. While it does praise his art and lecture on the whole – ‘the lecture gave great satisfaction …’, it does go on to note, ‘Mr Prout’s address is good … apart from all the heary learned quackery of expression and assumption of profound knowledge, which is considered by mere professors necessary to give effect to all they do or say’. Oh dear!
THE FINE ARTS.-The lectures of Mr. Prout, delivered at Mr. Cowle’s Academy in Melville-street, on each Wednesday evening, (to-morrow being the last of three,) have been (we find on further inquiry) well and respectably attended. It is too late to insert the notices previously sent us, and can therefore only now very briefly observe, that on last Wednesday evening the lecture was attended by the Colonial Secretary, Mr. Fraser, Mr. Boyes, Mr. Burgess and family, with others of a class which we are glad to see patronizing such very praiseworthy attempts to amuse and instruct. The lecture gave great satisfaction, delivered as it was in language sufficiently chaste and eloquent, and relieved by the lighter shades of occasional anecdote. Mr. Prout’s address is good, composed as it is of instruction given in the light of understandable common sense, apart from all the heavy learned quackery of expression and assumption of profound knowledge, which is considered by mere professors necessary to give effect to all they say or do. He sketches rapidly with the brush, and explains as he proceeds, showing the effects of light and shadow, and the great advantage it is to the artist his having a mind capable of chaste and correct composition. It is a beautiful study, and such as should be encouraged in a colony where the mind has hitherto been too much neglected. It produces better results than more pictures. It leads “through nature up to nature’s God,” and imperceptibly implants causes and creates influences in the human heart, which especially in youth ought not to be neglected. By some unintentional error it seems, we were not in the first instance made acquainted with Mr. Prout’s purpose and arrangements, and therefore have passed them bye, excepting an expression of satisfaction at Mr. Cowle having made his large school-room accommodations and kind attentions, available to so good and so useful a purpose.Colonial Times, May 14, 1844.
Things did improve, and the review goes on to say that, ‘He sketches rapidly with the brush, and explains as he proceeds, showing the effects of light and shadow, and the great advantage it is to the artist his having a mind capable of chaste and correct composition’.
But to prove that reviewers seldom agree with each other, The Courier (Hobart), wrote a glowing review.
Mr Prout’s first Lecture. We have had several opportunities of witnessing Mr Prout’s skill as an artist, but not of his talent as a lecturer until Wednesday last, when he illustrated the leading principles of perspective necessary to be known by those who desire even mediocrity in drawing. His explanations of these leading principles, and of the means by which a knowledge of sketching from nature might be obtained, were exceedingly clear; aided as they were with his pencil, with which he frequently illustrated and simplified his meaning. His exposition of the mode in which drawing is generally taught at schools was so true and graphic that we dare say many of his hearers called to mind the “touching up” of their attempts, and the difficulty they had in recognising their own handiwork afterwards. Mr Prout we are glad to see, advocates a close study of natural objects in preference to copying the meaningless drawings which are usually put before pupils for that purpose and we trust that his efforts in creating and fostering a taste for the beautiful will not relax, nor be unsuccessful.The Courier Hobart, Fri April 26, 1844 p2.
His anecdotes, with which he interspersed the lecture, [were] told well and his manner, as much as the story itself, afforded great amusement to his audience, who seemed to be very sorry when he came to a conclusion. The second lecture will be delivered on Wednesday next.
We may add that Mr Prout has undertaken the preparation of views in this colony, with the intention of publishing later.
This he did, and later in the year he produced the first volume of Tasmania Illustrated. The Royal Society of Tasmania’s lithographs are all black and white, although hand coloured examples of the images do exist.
The Hobart Town Courier [28 March 1846, p.4, col.1.], wrote this review of Tasmania Illustrated.
TASMANIA ILLUSTRATEDHobart Town Courier, 28 March 1846, p.4, col.1.
BY J. S. PROUT. VOL. 1 HOBART TOWN
It consists of a title page and twelve views of Hobart Town or the neighbourhood. The title page is divided into five compartments, showing, we presume, different stages of the colonization of Van Diemen’s Land – the arrival of the earliest vessel on that coast – an encampment of the native blacks of the island, whose race is now almost extinct – colonists burning stumps and felling trees – and lastly the signs of traffic and commerce, and the chimneys and spires of a large and flourishing town. This ingenious title page may accordingly be looked upon as emblematical of the rapid advancement of Hobart Town; for the eye wanders in the same page from the dense forest inhabited by the savage, to the imposing town built and peopled by a race of Britons and their descendants. To dwellers in towns and cities in the mother country, which have crept, at a snail’s pace, in the slow progress of centuries, to their present condition, the railroad speed at which our Tasmanian neighbours have travelled in colonization may appear somewhat marvellous. But in this young metropolis, our organ of wonder is less active or less developed than the same protuberance on the craniums of our fathers and friends in the old world; for we live in an age which has witnessed a most important colony established out of a wild forest, at the very antipodes of the British isles, and a most flourishing city built, and filled with a population of 40,000 souls in the space of a little more than half a century. These are wonderful features in this age of wonders. But to resume. The sketches in the work before us are named –
1. The Female Factory, from Proctor’s Quarry
2. New Town, Mount Direction, &c.
3. Hobart Town, from the New Wharf
4. Cape Raoul
5. Cape Pillar
6. Fern Tree Valley
7. Hobart Town, from the New Town Road
8. Rest Down
9. Hobart Town, from Kangaroo Bay
10. The Queen’s Orphan Schools, New Town
11. Hobart Town, from Mount Nelson
12. Hobart Town, from the Government Paddock
The eye which has never beheld any but the tame scenery in the neighbourhood of Sydney will be agreeably surprised if not somewhat startled at the wild features of Van Diemen’s Land which the volume before us so graphically exhibits. The first print of the series, The Female Factory, which is a picture we like better perhaps than any of its companions, gives us a very fine piece of highland scenery. Mount Wellington rises in stately grandeur from the wooded valley where the Factory stands, rearing his rocky summit above the trees that creep far up his sides, and showing an outline and appearance so peculiar as to be recognised on several of the succeeding views. But we are not now writing a description of the scene depicted. We wish merely to draw the attention of the public to the work which is well worthy of the patronage of all who have any interest in the sister colony, or any wish to advance the arts among us, and patronize the artist, who may still be regarded as one of ourselves. Those who are aware of the fidelity of Mr Prout’s pencil, and those who are familiar with the scenes represented in the present volume, need not be told that in the work before us his pencil has lost none of its character for truth. The artist has done all that could well have been accomplished without descriptive letter-press to give strangers a pretty correct notion of the appearance and situation of Hobart Town, and the vicinage. This was the object he had in view. For the sake of variety and interest, he has introduced some sea and river sketches as well as that wild woody spot on the mountain’s side called Fern Tree Valley; but Hobart Town itself was the chief object of illustration, and accordingly we have no fewer than five representations of the town, taken from different directions. Upon the whole, the volume under review is all that it was intended to be, and we trust it may meet with a ready sale. In Van Diemen’s Land, at least, we are pretty sure it will be eagerly sought for; but even here there are numbers of the citizens who have a sufficient interest in the sister colony to induce them to purchase so fine a pictorial representation of it. We said that the paper of Tasmania Illustrated was inferior to that used in Mr Prout’s English publications; but the drawing – the artistical part of the present work – is superior to anything we have ever seen produced by his pencil.
Below are a series of images – the cover and title page, followed by five lithographs. Click on an image to see an enlarged version.
I’ve included The Wellington Falls, Hobart Town here although it does not appear in the list in the Hobart Town Courier article as our records indicate it is from Vol 1.
The rest of the lithographs will be in the December Newsletter. Vol 2 featuring parts of Northern Tasmania will form another article.
I would be interested to find out if anyone knows how the hand coloured copies of Tasmania Illustrated were produced. Were they painted in Tasmania, by whom, or were they sent to Sydney?