The Royal Society of Tasmania Art Collection
The Royal Society of Tasmania Art Collection comprises well over 900 works on paper. The Royal Society of Tasmania began its art collection in the mid nineteenth century. In 1900, fearing Tasmania’s unique history might be lost with the coming federation of Australia, the Society set upon a scheme to collect art, photographs, books, records, maps and other material to ensure the State’s history would not be lost.
The Society contacted prominent Tasmanian identities and visitors from the past to contribute material to the collection. Among them were the naval officer and artist Simpkinson de Wesselow, who contributed some 200 watercolours from his four-year stint at the Magnetic Observatory in Hobart from 1845 to 1848. De Wesselow travelled extensively while in Tasmania, compiling a valuable visual record of life on the island. He visited Flinders Island from where he created a unique record of the Tasmanian Aboriginal settlement of Wybalenna. He also recorded convict life at Port Arthur and the nearby coal mines.
Another major collection is that of Captain Owen Stanley. In 1837-38 he sailed for the East Indies and Australasian waters, chiefly on surveying work. The watercolours in the Society’s collection are from this voyage. They were donated to the Society by Eliza Stanley, the widow of Stanley’s brother, Charles Stanley, Private Secretary to Sir William Denison (Governor of Van Diemen’s Land). Although Stanley’s achievements were principally scientific, he is now also recognised as a skilled maritime artist. His paintings are held in libraries and museums throughout the world, including the Royal Museums Greenwich. HMS Britomart visited Hobart while Stanley was in command in the 1840s. While in Van Diemen’s Land, Stanley visited Port Arthur, making a number of sketches of the trip.
The collection also features many works by Louisa Anne Meredith. Louisa came to Tasmania with her husband Charles in 1840. Already a published illustrator and author in England, she proved to be a prolific artist and author while in Van Diemen’s Land. She published over a dozen books during her life, many of them lavishly illustrated. The Society’s collection contains the watercolour originals for arguably her best book Some of my Bush Friends in Tasmania. She was an active member of the Society and donated several of her natural history works. In the 1930s, the Society purchased two of her sketchbooks and received a donation of a folio of her landscape sketches. Louisa Anne Meredith was the first woman to be granted Honorary Membership to the Society. Her wildflower drawings won medals in exhibitions in Australia and overseas, notably in the Melbourne Exhibition of 1866. The Tasmanian government granted her a pension of £100 in 1884 for ‘distinguished literary and artistic services’ to the colony.
The vast majority of items in the collection are nineteenth century works by early Tasmanian artists or visitors to the colony, however the collection also includes items that range from the seventeenth century through to mid-twentieth works.