Vanderbyl Aboriginal Artists and Australian Impressionism

Vanderbyl Aboriginal Artists and Australian Impressionism

so my lecture today is focused on cooling lands and emerges from thoughts around how artists in the 19th century encountered aboriginal and in this case foreign country these are fitting themes given the inclusion of william barrack in the shihokan sunlight exhibition and as many of you will know william burke and his artwork um this was the focus of my doctoral thesis and i draw on my thesis research for this lecture while artwork by aboriginal artists working in the 19th century is now well known their relationships with australian and australian-based painters has yet to be fully revealed the inclusion of men like william barack and tommy mcrae within australian art history reveals the changing parameters of the discipline uh one which is brought into sharper focus by examining an artist’s connections to the australian impressionist movement this lecture will chart the relationships that william barrack had with a range of patrons and supporters some of whom were also artists who were working in the colony of victoria i seek to raise the question is this in fact a hidden history of art made visible as we reconceive the disciplinary scope and boundaries of art history or is this a genealogy of colonial blindness simply reminding us of the ways in which white supremacy operated in melbourne’s nascent art world two questions um so i argue that looking at the relationships between artists and examining their actions is just as important as expanding the parameters of australian art history by noting the parallels between timing and methods of barracks painting with that of both well-known and less well-known colonial painters i seek to bring into focus questions of aboriginal presence and representation in our histories of 19th century australian art but it is important to remember that aboriginal art making existed long before colonization western aesthetics was just a recent arrival on australian shores so i keep this um really in the front of my mind whenever i think about where barack fits um in in history and in art history i’m certainly not the only one to wonder what is australia’s art history and indeed some of the scholars who are doing this work are are in this in this audience thank you for coming uh histories of australian art have followed what sasha grisham has called a cultural apartheid model in which european and aboriginal art practices are placed in separate camps susan lois has argued for a re-evaluation of australian art history in her examination of the category of aboriginal art and how it formed in 19th century victoria’s developing art world eurocentrism really influenced what could be included in art histories and the inclusion of william barrack and captain harrison in this shioken sunlight exhibition is indicative of these disciplinary shifts which we’re seeing um which have started taking place in recent decades it was not until exhibitions in the early 20th century dedicated to visual and material culture still termed at the time primitive art that aboriginal cultural objects gained understanding among wider audiences as worthy of appreciation as art so the national museum of victoria’s primitive art exhibition in 1943 marked the first time one of barracks paintings was exhibited to the public in this context that we would recognize as art history so in this context barracks relationships with artists both proficient and amateur connects him in significant ways with the artistic discourses of the period which undermines and sort of unsettles this parallel separateness in the histories of australian art while the artists in the colonial period were searching for an authentic australian mode and arriving at a particular understanding of light through tones of blue and gold barrack also understood um undertook the radical action of documenting cultural ceremonies and other representations of warranty life that he remembered prior to european invasion i connect the representation of aboriginal people in the paintings by colonial artists during this period with the question of recognizing aboriginal art thank you studies have explored how the fervent nationalism of the years leading to federation particularly evidenced in the heidelberg school can often depicted a landscape devoid of aboriginal people but populated with white labor and white leisure so scholars like tim bonahaddi and jeanette horne have made these observations which are then um unpacked as well in the shiho and sunlight exhibition some of the artists with whom barack formed relationships chose to represent aboriginal people in their work aboriginal people depicted in these paintings however often followed specific conventions conforming to the wider societal views that they were an alleged dying race and i hate to use those words i’m repeating um the terms used at the time sayers and others um sorry andrew sayers and others have argued that in their attempts to establish an australian identity artists forged a relationship with the landscape which visually obscured or erased prior aboriginal custodianship and ownership this was particularly evident in the context of the 1888 centennial celebrations commemorating 100 years of british occupation in which the aboriginal presence served as a vehicle for lamenting their passing my research demonstrates that while these practices of obliteration were in full swing barrack uh forged connections which allowed him to remain in place on the country which was forming the subjective foundation of a nationalistic art movement so who were barack’s peers as i have termed them this community was made up of swiss one growing family one family called japori of swiss settlers and artists from scotland and portugal and other families local to healesville with whom barack became acquainted he was a frequent visitor to the japuri estate known as juringberg and he is which was established by gulen dakuri in 1863. 1863 it was then developed by his sons victor and george through this family barrack met artists arthur lorero from portugal and john mather from scotland barracks lifelong friend ann fraser bond also introduced him to south african-born artist florence fuller and this circle of acquaintances was responsible for the five portraits that you see on the screen which i will detail alongside larrero maitha and fuller the de puri friend uh hubert d costella also from switzerland participated in founding the um and exhibiting at the victorian artists society and organization which connected each of these artists and one central to the exhibition of european australian art in the colony the society was formed in 1888 with the amalgamation of the victorian academy of the arts and the australian art association [Music] arthur street and frederick mccovern charles conder and tom roberts were also foundational members but their names don’t come up as frequently in this um material that i’m describing using the victorian artists society as a link between william barrack and the larger impressionist movement in australia reveals a dimension um to the relationships these artists had with orangery country and broader coolman country however as noted my goal is not necessarily to add barrack to this movement as a fellow artist or portrait subject though he was both illustrating these connections between impressionists in australia and an aboriginal artist is more about highlighting his absence and their blindness so it’s about asking why was he not present and his art making arose from very specific circumstances but it has its origins in cultural practices which predate the arrival of art history on australian shores nevertheless detailing barracks relationships is a key part of my approach to this history and one which parallels much research into australian impressionists whose friendships are so well documented we know all about the letters and the relationships that they had so um i’m really interested to do something similar or to see what is possible in this context i begin with the swiss families with whom barrack became friends so the de puris and the decastellas both were connected by marriage or close acquaintance to the colonies first lieutenant governor charles joseph latrobe and several swiss families settled in the yarra valley and maintained a tight network bringing these connections with them governor latrobe’s wife sophie was a member of the new chatel family of montmolin member neighbors to the japaris in the region of switzerland uh where they lived once settled in victoria the properties of these settlers became popular places for visiting um melbourne elite who journeyed out to the countryside to escape the bustle of the city the first de puri to arrive in the colony was the puri in 1852 but it was his sons i’ll focus on because through george and victor barack formed a long-standing connection with the family their father died in 1890 and after completing um his schooling george de pury took over the management of yarrenberg winery george continued his father’s practice of employing aboriginal um residents from korenderk during the great harvest and you can see that in one of the photos he maintained the farm diary during this period and he makes frequent reference to the type of exchanges that he had with william barrack so for example on the 2nd of june in 1891 george purchased a deer from barrack for 10 shillings and later that year they went shooting together george and victor reciprocated these visits and were sometimes at coronder to take photographs or sell potatoes george recalled his experiences in circa 1881 that quote it is enjoyable to hunt with the men as they know all the countryside and especially all the types of game end quote in 1895 victor became a member of the victorian artists society and exhibited at their annual exhibitions his neighbor hubert de castella was also a member on and off during the 1870s when it was known as the australian artists association though it’s not known if these two amateur artists painted together or went on sketching trips in the countryside their joint membership of this community suggests interest and engagement in the development of art in the colony their connections to the society it will be shown further link barrack with professional artists practice practicing in melbourne victor de puri having known the aboriginal elder all his life was interested to paint his portrait during his training in art from portuguese artist arthur lorero lorero arrived in australia in 1884 and began teaching painting while also exhibiting at the victorian artists society uh he was well regarded during his time in melbourne and his training in lisbon rome and paris gave him some standing and like other immigrant artists he was integral to the formation of the society the farm diary reports that on the 11th of july in 1899 barack walked to yaringburg the dupuri property for the first of several sittings with japuri and loretta over the next two weeks a somber background was chosen in these portraits of barrack emphasizing his white beard and his piercing gaze i think both japuri and lorera both highly regarded the portraits that they produced keeping them on display in their homes victor japuri was larrera’s pupil and while barack sat for the portrait as a subject he also participated in an artist’s lesson techniques and strategies of art making the elements and principles applied to portraiture and working with oils were no doubt discussed questions about mixing appropriate colors how to capture the light falling on the elders beard for example may all have been posed barrack sat and listened and at the conclusion of this uh the session may have viewed these paintings in progress one capturing his profile and the other his face in three-quarter profile this provided the viewer with a unique perspective sort of recreated here um of barrack while these two paintings were side by side in in process arthur lorero also painted a second portrait of barak and he is unique for doing so um a painting titled a son of the soil was completed in 1893 and exhibited with the victorian artists society in april and august of that year a small black and white reproduction from the 1893 april catalogue shows barack seated in profile outdoors in a background with a background of tall straight trees his pose is relaxed i think and he gazes into the distance though this reproduction is small and not in color the man is recognizably the war entry elder his jacket and white beard and hair are clearly recognizable though he does not look at us the timing of this painting also indicates that these two artists knew each other for several years before victor japuri and lorero painted barracks simultaneous portrait in 1899 this portrait of barrack varies slightly from other representations of aboriginal people by his contemporaries tom roberts john mather and b e mins for example who often isolated their subjects from the context and in so doing conformed to a type portrait rather than painting a specific individual although some of these identities are being revealed through research arthur lorero also painted one potentially two additional portraits of barrack so in addition to the sun a sun of the soil it is thought um this was a study for or an earlier version of regulo australiano or the australian tribal chief which is pictured here in the national museum of portugal so this research demonstrates the possibility of greater engagement with aboriginal artists by international artists living in or settling in australia than we previously thought given the range of countries of origin for the artists discussed here further investigation would produce a greater understanding of the complexity of such a nationalistic period in australia’s art history i think um another link to this artistic milieu was formed shortly after lorera painted a son of the soil when scottish artist john mather painted barracks portrait at the request of another swiss settler so in december 1894 barack sat for another portrait at the request of ann luba so it’s unclear how um john mather met anne anna the um they must have uh discussed art making and mather and barrack really must have formed a relationship um because matha acquired two of barack’s paintings during this time which he then donated to the industrial and technological museum the following year anna luba worked as a governess for swiss families in the lilly dale region before marrying ernest bluebar who was a pastoralist who held the land in the yarra valley at various times barack’s friendship with this family may have developed in a similar manner to others in the region as a strategy to remain connected and gain unimpeded access to his own country maitha was born and trained in scotland and arrived in australia in 1878 as one of a number of immigrant artists unlike larrero who returned to portugal later in his life mather made australia made melbourne his home permanently he also spent a number of years during the 1890s living and painting at a property called kumbala in hillsville given this proximity it’s possible as a plein airist that mather visited the luber property to paint mather’s painting is an oil study of barrack looking the viewer in the eye um the tones are muted and the playing background focuses the viewer’s attention on barracks face barrack does not smile in this portrait in fact his expression is very serious and though matha has used loose impressionistic brushstrokes the elder’s expression is strikingly communicated i think like guerrero and de pury this portrait of barack held an important place for its recipient anne luba she presented it to charlie roberts her son-in-law who was the last superintendent at coronderk from 1909 until the station closed in 1925. the lasting connection between mather and barack takes the form of an exchange of ideas and artwork embodied in [Music] these two paintings i think aboriginal ceremony and aboriginal ceremony with wallaby and emu these are the names given to the paintings by the state library of victoria we of course do not know exactly um how barrack would have referred to them they are painted on cardboard and cut from the same piece they are quite large among barracks collection of works and he’s used an oil-based ochre rich paint quite thickly so it stands out from the cardboard under the paint showing through in places there’s a pencil outline showing each figure an animal giving us a small indication of his working methods there are emus and wallabies surrounded by a gathering of dancers and drummers posed in a schema which is very familiar as barrack’s own way of composing paintings these two paintings are now in the state library collection as i said and mesa donated them to what was called the industrial and technological museum in 1895. it was located in the state library but it wasn’t until 1930 that the library began a historical collections sessions book which is the first time that the artworks gather a paper trail now i’ll turn to um the final artist with whom barack formed a connection florence fuller is was a south african-born artist working in melbourne as well as other locations including western australia she has been described as a highly gifted portrait painter but scarcely recognized today born in 1867 by the age of 13 she was receiving lessons from australian impressionist painter jane sutherland and became influenced by her uncle robert dowling she exhibited in the australian in the victorian artist artist society in their inaugural exhibition and was recognized for her portraiture followers commissioned by barack’s friend and ally ann fraser bonn and completed the portrait of the elder in 1885 so this might have been um an earlier work of hers representing the first two the first of the five portraits of barrack to be painted importantly it was a woman who commissioned the painting um of a subject not widely pursued by artists and it was a woman who painted it this relationship requires further research it is also important to note that the portrait was gifted by anbonn to the state library during barracks lifetime so in 1901 she was also a collector of barracks paintings which were donated before her death to the ballarat art gallery and the royal historical society of victoria so to sum up it was through the growing community of friends at coronder that barrack learned more about painting on paper and using watercolours and to whom he entrusted the preservation of some of his artworks this community was made up of the japaris other swiss settlers to the region and artists from scotland and portugal and south africa barrack was a frequent visitor to the estate at yarringberg established by gulonda puri and developed by his sons through this family barack met artists arthur lorero and john mather and through anne fraser born barrack met florence fuller these acquaintances were responsible for five portraits which we have just which i’ve described and you can see them here there’s actually six no five i get ahead of myself there could be six but we don’t know where we don’t know where the sixth one is so these artists with whom barack formed relationships of some kind connect him to australian impressionism in interesting ways they weren’t the headline acts of this movement and some of them did not even remain in victoria one thing that these relationships reveal is a history beyond the canon one in which an aboriginal artist met with australian and international artists one in which we can only speculate at the types of artistic exchanges that took place but one that leads to a more expansive understanding of what australian art history is and could be the presence of an aboriginal man as an artist no less on the canvases and in encounters with melbourne’s painters and settler patrons demands a rethinking of art historical accounts of this period as well as contributes to calls to re-evaluate the discipline itself she open sunlight presents an example of the richer history that emerges when parameters of art history are expanded to include artists whose presence has been previously excluded or hidden in plain sight in doing so i do caution that we must not lose sight of the fact of aboriginal creative expressions pre-dating colonization and raise the question of the discipline’s ability to reconcile its own past many questions arise still from this research for example to what extent was their influence from australian impressionists on barack did he influence their work and did they understand him as an artist or merely a curiosity outside the portraits of barack it was not until the 1940s that his work was included into what we recognized as an art history i have approached the question of australia’s art history from an interdisciplinary standpoint um trying to think about it from both historical art historical and indigenous studies frameworks barracks artworks understood today by his descendants as national treasures were variously thought of as souvenirs for tourists or material for ethnological study during his lifetime the select few individuals who understood his artwork as art have been described in this presentation through his contacts with matha lorrero japuri fuller and dicastella barack was exposed to aspects of an artistic discourse of the period and it’s these very relationships which calls us to consider a new parameters of art historical um study and the discipline australian impressionism for example has managed to locate its women artists as michael pointed out at the beginning after a long period of exclusion the masculinist vision has been amended does this exhibition signify that a similar move will take place with aboriginal artists working in proximity to impressionists will it be possible to disentangle australian art history as an approach to understanding the past from the ways in which colonization seeks to obliterate aboriginal cultures ian mclean and others um have argued for a post-national art history to examine intersections between indigenous migrant diasporic post-colonial global and trans-cultural studies within a world of nation-states scholars around the world are currently questioning what a decolonized art history would look like for example is it time for reimagining the dominant narratives we’ve taken for granted why what would a canon of art look like if we changed our focus can we envision a werundry art history a history of cool and art you’ll notice that i haven’t overly interpreted the meaning and content of barracks artworks this is something i believe that has to be done with his descendants my argument here and my research focus is on questions of knowledge looking from a cooling viewpoint rather than a western one barracks artwork is syncretic it combines materials from the oppressor with knowledge and story and tradition from where injury culture any interpretation i think has to be done sensitively and in collaboration [Music] so a parallel separateness is a poor explanation for the history i’ve described in this lecture barrack was enmeshed within an artistic context an important component of his advocacy and his diplomacy australian impressionists arrived on his land and he used these relationships with a select few of them to ensure the preservation of his cultural knowledge and i’ll leave it there thank you
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Vanderbyl Aboriginal Artists and Australian Impressionism

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