Australia’s settler-colonial art seen through the work of a Blue Mountains historian

People have painted and pictured Australia as long as they have been here. Comparatively recently though, since 1788, there has been what historian Dr Gary Werskey specialises in – settler-colonial art, particularly the work of AH (Albert Henry) Fullwood (1863-1930). Fullwood was part of the Heidelberg School, with Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton, before moving to Sydney. He later became a war artist during the Great War.

220px-A_Henry_Fullwood_1896AH Fullwood 1896 (Wikipedia)

Dr Werskey recently gave a YouTube talk to the Blackheath History Forum as part of NSW History Week. Entitled ‘Australia’s settler-colonial art: origins and legacies’, the talk provides an overview of the guiding ideas of Dr Werskey’s work and how they bear on the crises people in the arts and humanities are currently facing. Dr Werskey is keen to get feedback so please hook up to the YouTube talk. It runs for 90 minutes or so.

Then, next year the National Library of Australia, Canberra, in partnership with the Art Gallery of NSW, will host an exhibition focussed on the artists of the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia (1886), specifically Julian Ashton, Fullwood, and Frank Mahony. The show will draw on the collections of the NLA, AGNSW, and other institutions to show how the Atlas became the catalyst for Australia’s settler-colonial art movement.  Co-curated by Natalie Wilson, the AGNSW’s Curator of Australian and Pacific Art, and Dr Werskey, it is currently scheduled to run from March 12 to July 10, 2021.

Finally, there’s a book. NewSouth will be publishing Picturing a Nation: The Art & Life of A.H. Fullwood to coincide with the launch of the NLA/AGNSW exhibition. There will be 80 000 words, 64 pages of colour plates, and many black-and-white pictures. Along with the exhibition, the book, says Dr Werskey, ‘will set the rise of settler-colonial art in Australia in the context of a larger story about British art in the Age of Empire. I also believe that the much under-rated Fullwood will emerge as an important bridge between Sydney’s and Melbourne’s art-worlds.’ The book will also examine the disciplines of painting and illustration underpinning the settler-colonial art movement.

Previously on Honest History, Gary Werskey reviewed Margaret Hutchison’s Painting War and wrote about the Anzac Christmas Card.

David Stephens

12 September 2020

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