Telling the Story of Australian Art
Highlighted in our third post on your Australian Art Collection reimagined are works which are included in the chronological ‘spine’ along the back wall of the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries. Adjacent to Dale Harding’s wall commission view works from both the European landscape tradition and representations of country by Aboriginal artists.
Conrad Martens’s Forest, Cunningham’s Gap 1856 is an early Queensland watercolour depicting the steep track from the Great Dividing Range’s tropical rainforest to the Darling Downs plains below. An English-born colonial painter, Martens arrived in Australia after working on the HMS Beagle as the ship’s artist. Nearby are Judy Watson’s sacred ground, beating heart 1989 and Gordon Bennett’s Untitled 1991. Watson produced sacred ground before visiting Waanyi country in north-west Queensland, the home of her matrilineal family; the natural pigment and pastel work reflects the artist’s deep connection to her ancestors. Bennett’s painting depicts a ship adrift on a stormy sea, amid images of Aboriginal heads. Referencing the Raft of the Medusa 1818–19 by French artist Théodore Géricault, Bennett asks us to consider the effects of the upheaval caused by colonisation, specifically the separation of people from their homeland.
These paintings join other treasured works by artists such as Russell Drysdale, Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, Rosalie Gascoigne, Eugene von Guérard, Rosemary Laing, Daphne Mayo, Jon Molvig, Fred Williams, and of course, R Godfrey Rivers, whose Under the jacaranda 1903 holds many stories. Rivers was an important figure in Brisbane — an artist, teacher and champion of the Queensland National Art Gallery (which opened in 1895) — and he, like the tree in his painting, and like so many people living in Brisbane today, came here from elsewhere. (In the jacaranda’s case, on trading ships from South America.) Under the jacaranda has a history with our audiences, who have admired it for many years — some even lay jacaranda flowers under the painting when the trees bloom in spring.
We also explore our physical involvement with the land through agriculture and mining, so central to the history of the state, along with the development of the country’s labour movement and working women. The Queensland climate, which has shaped ideas of ‘the deep north’, also features here, with works by celebrated artists Margaret Olley, Max Dupain, Tracey Moffatt, Kenneth Macqueen and others. Moving back in time, George Wishart’s newly restored A busy corner of the Brisbane River, painted in 1897 (since identified as the Eagle Street Wharves), is a rare depiction of the river’s bustling commercial activity around the turn of the century. Charles Blackman’s Stradbroke ferry 1952 brings us to Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), where contemporary Quandamooka weaver Sonja Carmichael is based. The Ngughi artist’s commission is an installation of jewelcoloured bowls woven from natural, commercial raffia and discarded nylon fishing nets, materials found on the shoreline of her island.
As visitors enter and leave the end gallery, near the Gibson entrance, they will encounter Anmatyerre artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s timeless Utopia panels 1996, a major commission completed by the artist at the end of her brief painting career and in the last year of her life. Among her boldest pieces, the multipanel series is one of the Gallery’s great works.
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Dr Kyla McFarlane, Australian Art, QAGOMA
Feature image detail: Conrad Martens, Forest, Cunningham’s Gap 1856