Significant Artworks in the RST Art Collection
The Royal Society of Tasmania’s Art Collection contains artworks that are significant for a variety of reasons: the artist, what is portrayed in the image, who is portrayed, representation of important events in Tasmania’s history and more. Below is a small selection representative of the content of the collection.
Artist: Francis Guillemard Simpkinson de Wesselow (1819–1906)
Francis Guillemard Simpkinson de Wesselow, naval officer and artist, was born in London. He was the son of Sir John Augustus Francis Simpkinson. His mother, Mary Griffin, was the sister of Lady Jane Franklin. Upon joining the navy in 1832 he served with his uncle, Sir John Franklin (later Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land). He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in September 1844 to take up his appointment at the Rossbank Magnetic Observatory in Hobart Town.
Simpkinson was an accomplished artist and recorded a great many landscapes around Van Diemen’s Land. He was often accompanied on his painting excursions around the colony, and even to Port Phillip, by the artist John Skinner Prout.
When Lieutenant Simpkinson returned to England in December 1848, he took his collection of some 200 drawings and watercolours with him. In 1869 he added “de Wesselow” to his name by deed poll. Responding to a request from the Royal Society of Tasmania, Simpkinson de Wesselow gifted his collection of colonial paintings and drawings to the Society when he was aged 81.
De Wesselow’s paintings are important as they are a rare contemporary representation of Wybalenna (the Tasmanian Aboriginal settlement on Flinders Island), the convict era and the early whaling industry of Van Diemen’s Land.
In 1984, Tasmanian artist Max Angus published “Simpkinson de Wesselow: Landscape Painter in Van Diemen’s Land and the Port Phillip District 1844-1848”, a magnificent full colour volume on the artist. De Wesselow’s work has featured sporadically in exhibitions at TMAG, including an exhibition to celebrate the Royal Society of Tasmania’s 175th Anniversary in 2018.
Artist: Captain Owen Stanley (1811-1850)
Owen Stanley entered the Royal Naval College aged only fifteen. After graduating he swiftly rose through the ranks, and at the age of twenty-six he was given his first independent command, the brig HMS Britomart. In 1837-38 he sailed for the East Indies and Australasian waters, chiefly on surveying work. The watercolours in the Society’s Art 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).
While Stanley’s achievements were principally scientific – he was made a fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society for his surveying and observation work – he is now also recognised as a skilled maritime artist. His paintings are held in a number of libraries and museums 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.
Artist: Benjamin Duterrau (1767-1851)
Benjamin Duterrau came to Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830s and set up a studio in Hobart where he sought commissions for portraits. At the end of 1833 he was working on a series of portraits of Tasmanian Aboriginal people who had been brought to Hobart by George Augustus Robinson. According to the Hobart Town Courier, 29 November 1833, he was the first to portray Tasmanian Aboriginal people accurately, successfully revealing their temperaments as well as their external appearance.
Artist: Louisa Anne Meredith (1812–1895)
Louisa Anne Meredith 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 in Van Diemen’s Land as well. She published over a dozen books during her life, many of them lavishly illustrated.
The Society’s Art 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 sketchbooks.
Louisa Anne Meredith was the first woman to be granted Honorary Membership of 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.