PORTRAIT OF ELIZABETH ANN WILSON POTTER, MRS FRANCIS BARNES, HOBART, 1825

Important Australian and International Fine Art
Sydney
10 May 2017
69

AUGUSTUS EARLE

(1793 – 1838)
PORTRAIT OF ELIZABETH ANN WILSON POTTER, MRS FRANCIS BARNES, HOBART, 1825

pastel on paper

76.0 x 57.0 cm

signed lower left: A. Earle.
old label attached verso, inscribed: Mrs Row / Government Store / Hobart ‘V.D.L.’

Estimate: 
$120,000 – 180,000
Provenance

Private collection, Tasmania
Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above c.1980
Private collection, Adelaide

Catalogue text

Son of the American artist James Earl (and nephew of the better-known Ralph), Royal Academy-trained and Royal Navy-connected, traveller in the Mediterranean, the United States, South America and India and perhaps most famous as the first topographical artist and draughtsman on Charles Darwin's Beagle voyage, Augustus Earle is also one of the clearest and most sophisticated witnesses of British-Australian landscape and society in the early decades of the 19th century; he has been justly described as 'by far the most interesting artist working in New South Wales in the 1820s.'1

The story of his arrival in the Australian colonies is well-known. When the sloop Duke of Gloucester, the vessel that was taking him to Calcutta, stopped at the south Atlantic island of Tristan d'Acunha to take on a cargo of potatoes, Earle went ashore with his dog Jemmy to explore. Before he could rejoin the ship, however, a gale blew up, Captain Ammon raised the anchor and the Duke of Gloucester disappeared. The famously gregarious and adventurous Earle was stranded for eight months on one of the remotest places on earth, a rocky island just 11 kilometres long with a total population of six adults, until he was rescued by a passing vessel, the Admiral Cockburn, bound for Hobart Town.

During the four years that followed, between 1825 and 1828, Earle made hundreds of sketches, finished drawings, and watercolours, oil paintings, lithographs and transparencies, both in Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales (with a six-month sidetrip to New Zealand). His works combine obvious facility and accuracy with a more subtle dimension of sympathy and charm, and with occasional flashes of the wit he displays so clearly in his journals and correspondence.

Throughout his sojourn, as a necessary corollary to and sustainer of his peripatetic lifestyle, Earle produced dozens of portraits, from quick watercolour 'fizzogs' to formal full-length portraits in oil. While occasionally a little stiff and anatomically questionable,2 Earle's best portraits evince clear empathetic understanding. As one of his earliest scholars, Eve Buscombe, has observed: 'the eye-play of all the frontal portraits reveals the ease with which he moved in the society in which he found himself.'3 Indeed, Earle's sitters form a most interesting cross-section of the colonial population, from the Governor of New South Wales Sir Thomas Brisbane to Aboriginal adventurer, diplomat and elder Bungaree, from Port Jackson's customs grandee Captain John Piper to the bogus clergyman (and genuine educator) Laurence Hynes Halloran.4 This last was an emancipist, a freed convict, and it is clear (from the works of contemporary colonial painters such as C.H.T. Costantini and W.B. Gould) that this substantial and buoyant Piper, 1826, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales; Laurence Hynes Halloran, c. 1825-27, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales sector of the colony's society and economy shared the officials' and developers' taste for images of themselves.

The sitter in the present portrait is another of this class, a Hampshire woman born Elizabeth Ann Wilson Potter (or Portler), who was convicted of larceny in 1813 and transported for seven years to New South Wales. Transferred to Hobart Town the following year, she married one Philip Macklin, and although records of Mr Macklin's death have not been traced, Elizabeth married again ten years later, this time to Francis Barnes. Barnes, a former soldier and printer, had also been transported (for the theft of bank notes), and as a convict was one of those foundation settlers who came to Hobart Town with Lt-Gov. David Collins on the Calcutta in 1804. Francis appears to have prospered in the new colony; convict musters show that by 1819 he was farming 50 acres of land, and had four assigned servants. He was also an entrepreneur and businessman, proprietor of the Hope Tavern in Macquarie Street (formerly the 'Whale Fishery' and later the 'Hope and Anchor'), Tasmania's first licensed premises. Being situated close to the Sullivan's Cove waterfront and opposite the Government Commissariat office, the Hope was a convenient place to do business, especially the kind of business associated with arrivals and departures.5 It is perhaps not surprising that the newly-disembarked Earle should have found there possibly his very first client in the colonies.6

The portrait is remarkable not only for its early date and its clear autograph signature,7 but also for its being in pastel, a medium not previously recorded in Earle's oeuvre. Like watercolour, pastel is seen (and was recognised by 18th century theorists) as occupying a space and a dignity somewhere between painting and drawing - Joseph Vivien was admitted to the French Académie in 1701 as a ‘peintre en pastel.’ The medium attained high status in the 18th century through a then-supposed superior durability to oil, and through the virtuoso drawings of Rosalba Carriera in Italy, Maurice Quentin de la Tour in France, John Russell in England and Jean-Etienne Liotard almost everywhere; it was quickly and widely adopted by portraitists across Europe.

Given the uniqueness of the present work, it is instructive to compare Earle’s deployment of the medium with his watercolour technique. The watercolours follow the common late Georgian fashion, with landscape forms described through broad, floating planes of tone, (somewhat in the manner of Thomas Girtin, or rather Francis Towne),8 and faces by the kind of stipple-hatching of the miniaturist on ivory.9 Here, however, Earle works in the opposite manner to that of a watercolourist, by accumulation rather than separation of pigment, by smooth tonal gradation rather than touches of colour. Furthermore, rather than leaving the support blank (or using a water-resistant ‘stopping out’ varnish, or ‘scratching out’ with a nib or knife) and having the white of the paper flash edges and reflections, linen and water, the artist here adds his highest tone at the end of the process, giving to Mrs Barnes’ aureole of white lace and ribbon the space and form of clouds. Augustus Earle was clearly as comfortable with coloured chalks as with watercolour or oil paint; Mrs Barnes' pink face is delicately, flatteringly modelled (she was 41 at the time the portrait was taken), and the shimmer and translucency of the white collar and cap which frame her visage are particularly deftly executed, in broad, confident strokes, subtly layered and delicately stippled.10 The work is in very fine condition, in its original frame and glass.

1. Ron Radford and Jane Hylton, Australian colonial art 1800-1900, Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 1995, p. 38
2. As with the work of another well-known early colonial portraitist, Robert Dowling, his heads can be a little too large and/or his hands a little too small.
3. Buscombe, E., 'A discussion about Augustus Earle and some of his portraits', Art Bulletin, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, no. 19, 1978, p. 57
4. Sir Thomas Brisbane, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales; Captain John Piper, 1826, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales; Laurence Hynes Halloran, c. 1825-27, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
5. Notices in the Hobart Town Gazette about a lost horse and the settlement of debts prior to departing the colony give the pub and its landlord as contacts (1 April 1825, 6 May 1825, 27 May 1825). Barnes' advertisement describing newspapers, books and journals available in the parlour - 'Lloyd's List, London New Price Current, London Mercantile Price Current, London Shipping & Commercial List, the Customs, Imports and Exports of London, The Times, The Courier, The Sun, The Morning Chronicle, St James's Chronicle &c. &c' also suggests his clientele had interests other than drinking. (Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, 17 February 1827, p. 1)
6. Mrs Barnes died in 1827, and Earle did not return to Hobart Town until October 1828, so this portrait must date from his first visit to Van Diemen's Land, ie between January and May 1825. Known Tasmanian subjects by the artist are rare. There are three landscapes: Hobart Town from the Domain (attrib., 1820s, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales); Panorama of Hobart, 1828 Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales); Cluny Park, Van Dieman's [sic] Land, the general appearance of the country in its natural state, perfect park scenery (1825, National Library of Australia); and a lost view of New Town mentioned in a review of Earle's Sydney exhibition in 1829 (A.B. (Rev. John McGarvie), 'On the state of the fine arts in New South Wales', Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 30 July 1829, p. 3). There are also two or three other portraits - Lt-Col. Charles Cameron (1825, National Library of Australia); Lucy Parris, Mrs G.W. Evans (1825, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston); and Four children of Joseph Tice Gellibrand (attrib., c. 1827-8, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery)
7. A corresponding upper case 'E' is found in the inscription of the recently-discovered Sketch of Mr Prout at Sydney, New South Wales, private collection, sold Deutscher and Hackett, Melbourne, 4 May 2016, lot 24, for $176,900 (inc. buyer’s premium)
8. See, for example, his folio Views in New South Wales, c. 1825 – 28, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, PXD 265
9. See the Prout portrait, ibid.
10. The confident, translucent sweeps and highlights of ribbon in this drawing anticipate the deft touch of another Vandiemonian, Henry Mundy, who worked in the colony a decade later.

DAVID HANSEN
Canberra