Pacific arts

Colonial viewpoints

In 19th century Australia, portraiture enjoyed great popularity as colonists sought to record their presence and deeds for posterity. Early portraits sometimes presented people of rank and substance as well as those who had achieved success in the fast-growing colonies. A sitter might wear an abundance of gold jewellery, to show off their success, while occasionally an inventive artist could give a sense of place to his subject with the inclusion of sprigs of native flowers.

Among the most confronting portraits from the colonial period are those of Indigenous Australians, representations which now appear deeply problematic. Photographers such as Henry King and JW Lindt realised the commercial potential for taking portraits of Indigenous people, both as romantic narratives and for contemporary anthropology. Benjamin Duterrau depicted aspects of the Aboriginal way of life and portraits of leaders and their relationship with British colonists. He sought to place the Aboriginal people within the tradition of history painting. John Glover was acutely interested in Aboriginal people and said that his aim was to convey the ‘gay, happy life the natives led before White people came here’.