Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 November 2008

Thomas Wainewright

(1794 - 1847)

watercolour and pencil on paper

37.5 x 30.5 cm

$60,000 - 80,000
Sold for $96,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 6 - 26 November 2008, Melbourne

Sotheby's Sydney, 4 December 1994, lot 81
Private collection, Sydney


Art, Antique and Historical Exhibition, Hobart, 1931 as 'Portrait of Mrs. James Fitzgerald'


Curling, J., Janus Weathercock, London, 1938, p. 302 (illus.)
Crossland, R., Wainewright in Tasmania, Melbourne University Press, 1960, pp. 106, 142 & 153
Buscombe, E., Artists in Early Australia and Their Portraits: A Guide to the Portrait Painters of Early Australia with Special Reference to Colonial New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land to 1850..., Eureka Research, Sydney, 1979, pp. 332 (illus.), 333, cat. 30/22
P Anderson, T., in Kerr, J. (ed.), The Dictionary of Australian Artists; Painters, Sketchers, Photographers and Engravers to 1870, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992, p. 828

Catalogue text

Artists and forgers have a lot in common. They both create illusions of reality. They also played an important role in the early history of Australian art. Forger Joseph Lycett presented Australian landscapes in a style so redolent of England that many of his countrymen were inveigled to migrate. Another, Francis Greenway, achieved apotheosis when his portrait appeared on our first ten-dollar note. Thomas Wainewright was more colourful, being, among others things, the inspiration for Charles Dickens' novel, Hunted Down, and Oscar Wilde's Pen, Pencil and Poison. A gifted essayist and colleague of Hazlitt, Carlyle and Lamb, his skills included forgery, essential for a portrait painter in his dual role of flattery and likeness. Other applications landed him in Hobart Town in 1837. Previously, in England, he had studied under John Linnell and Thomas Phillips, exhibited at the Royal Academy, and was associated with such noted artists as William Blake and Henry Fuseli. On his downfall, he gained the unproven reputation of poisoner and seducer of women. As a model prisoner, the scales of justice balanced in Wainewright's favour, and the horrors of the Hobart chain-gang gave way to that of an orderly in the Colonial Hospital. By 1840 he was again making portraits, among the finest being The Cutmear Twins, Jane and Lucy, c.1842, a watercolour in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Commissions came from Hobart's polite classes, the twins being daughters of James Cutmear, gatekeeper of the convict barracks. His Portrait of Eleanor Fitzgerald is another classic example, and regarded as one of his best works.1 Eleanor (1809 - 1846) was the eldest daughter of Hopton and Jane Scott who arrived in Hobart from Ireland with their family in 1833. In 1837 she married James Fitzgerald, commander of the yard-gang at the same barracks, and from 1843 superintendent of the Colonial Hospital, of which Eleanor was matron. Friendship with the artist led, in 1844, to Fitzgerald supporting his petition for a ticket of leave, noting 'the steady and respectful manner in which he has behaved himself.'2 Wainewright's portraits of Fitzgerald and his wife, as with others, were most likely painted in gratitude. He also painted Eleanor's sister Jane Scott (National Gallery of Australia) and her brother Hopton, who was in trade as a hatter. Wainewright was one of colonial Australia's finest and most elegant portrait painters. The genteel elongation of the figure owes something to the influence of Fuseli, combined with Wainewright's sensuous line so suited to the feminine appeal of his sitters. Yet, even that fair line may have been forged for flattery, for not all could 'have been the beauties he portrayed.'3

1. Anderson, op. cit., p. 828
2. Quoted in Crossland, op. cit., p. 113
3. Smith, B.C., quoted in Crossland, p. 106