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Australian art Early European images of the Pacific, Colonial Victoria & South Australia

The Australian collection begins with a small group of works that depicts the early European exploration of, and encounters with, the Pacific. Just a few steps up from the new Pacific Arts Gallery, works of art on display connect the art of the Pacific Islands to the permanent displays of Australian art in the Colonial Galleries.

Gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851, the year the district became a colony separate from New South Wales. Melbourne quickly grew to be the largest and most prosperous of the colonial capitals – without a significant convict presence. Many artists were attracted to Victoria from within Australia and from abroad, and by the mid 1850s Melbourne had become the art centre of Australia. Viennese-born Eugene von Guérard, who had trained in the German Romantic tradition, was one of the finest of these artists. He arrived at the end of 1852 to dig for gold and stayed until 1882. From Melbourne, von Guérard travelled extensively in Australia, producing atmospheric landscape paintings, homestead portraits and wilderness subjects. The Swiss artist Nicholas Chevalier came to Victoria in 1854 after studies in European centres. He visited the goldfields then found employment as a cartoonist on Melbourne Punch. During 14 years in the colony Chevalier explored inland Victoria and painted awe-inspiring panoramic views. A later arrival, the Swiss-born and trained Louis Buvelot, who emigrated in 1865, specialised in painting country scenes close to Melbourne. Buvelot's more familiar approach to the Australian landscape and his use of loose painterly brushwork would inspire a new generation of landscape painters.

South Australia was established in 1836 as a free settlement. The art scene that developed around the capital, Adelaide, suffered in the early 1850s as colonists rushed to the goldfields – artists who left included the prolific watercolourist and lithographer S.T. Gill. However, new arrivals made a significant contribution to South Australia's art production from the mid nineteenth century. The colony's leading painter at that time, Alexander Schramm emigrated from Germany in 1849. His work included portraits, but most of his creative energy was devoted to depicting the Indigenous people of South Australia – portrayed with great empathy at a time when tribal life in Australia was threatened. JM Crossland, who had exhibited at the Royal Academy, arrived in 1851. Prominent South Australians sat for Crossland, whose often life-sized portraits brought a sense of grandeur to colonial portraiture. His 'heroic' representations of two young Indigenous men were among important commissions Crossland received in the few years before his death in 1858. Theresa Walker was South Australia's first female artist. She arrived from England early in 1837 and, over a decade or so in Adelaide, produced relief portrait medallions in wax. In Melbourne in 1861 she made medallions of the explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William Wills.