PORT JACKSON HARBOUR, NEW HOLLAND, c.1802

Important Australian and International Fine Art + Important Indigenous Art
Melbourne
29 November 2017
19

WILLIAM WESTALL

(1781 – 1850)
PORT JACKSON HARBOUR, NEW HOLLAND, c.1802

pencil on paper

16.0 x 22.5 cm

inscribed with title on backing sheet below image: Port Jackson Harbour, New Holland
inscribed with title verso: Port Jackson Harbour. New Holland. / HRW

Estimate: 
$50,000 – 70,000
Provenance

Private collection, London
Private collection, Melbourne

Literature

Flinders, M., A Voyage to Terra Australia, 1801-1803, London, vol. 1, 1814 (illus., related engraving)
Westall, W., Views of Australian Scenery, London, 1814 (illus., related engraving)
Findley, E., William Westall’s Australian Sketches, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1998, p. 30 (illus., related engraving)

Catalogue text

William Westall’s drawing, Port Jackson Harbour. New Holland, c.1802, offers a rare, early view of Sydney Harbour, notable for its historic significance and panoramic grandeur. It belongs to those few exceptional works in pencil, watercolour, print and an oil recording the harbour and development at Sydney Cove within the first decade or so of British settlement. Foremost among these are Thomas Watling’s (1762 – 1814) grand oil painting in the Dixson Gallery, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, proudly inscribed in paint on the back of the canvas: ‘A direct north general view of Sydney Cove, the chief British settlement in New South Wales as it appeared in 1794, being the 7th year from its establishment. Painted immediately from nature by T. Watling’. Based on direct studies made in the 1790s now in the collection of the British Museum (Natural History), London, it was probably painted following Watling’s return to Scotland after receiving an absolute pardon in 1797. Edward Dayes’ (1763 – 1804) watercolours, close in time to our Westall drawing, led to the printing in 1804 of the hand coloured aquatint A View of Sydney Cove, New South Wales, said to be drawn from a picture painted at the colony.1 Dayes, however, did not visit Australia, basing his work on that of Watling. Watling and Westall drawings arguably belong to those exclusive works done directly from the motif. While both record the scene with topographical accuracy, they are variously attired in the elegance of the Picturesque.

In 1801, a youthful Westall was appointed landscape painter and delineator of coastal profiles on Matthew Flinders’ Investigator, the expedition of 1801 – 03 circumnavigating Australia and mapping the coastline. In 1802, during ten weeks spent in Sydney while the Investigator underwent repairs, Westall made a number of drawings of the harbour, its regions, and the Indigenous Gagigal people. The drawing Port Jackson Harbour. New Holland shows a view taken from near present-day Vaucluse, the settlement of Sydney in the far distance together with Pinchgut Island where Fort Denison now stands. Three Indigenous figures were introduced to the left middle ground. For British artists used to the green fields of England and Scotland, Australia looked very plain, though furnished with exotic flora and fauna. Watling had written: ‘The landscape painter, may in vain seek here for that beauty which arises from happy-opposed off-scapes’.2 Westall echoed this sentiment in 1804, when he wrote to Sir Joseph Banks, of ‘his disappointment in the monotonous Australian landscape’.3

That which is different is often hard to understand and appreciate; but Westall had the sound academic training of London’s Royal Academy school to handle the situation, translating the exactness of his topographical observation into a neo-classically based composition. This he embellished with the Picturesque, the style then in vogue in England. His answer was to select and combine for the ideal, features and foregrounds rearranged for greater pictorial effect. Aborigines, seen in the related drawing, Port Jackson: A Group of Natives, 1802 and elsewhere in his work, were idealised as the ‘Noble Savage’. 4 Landscape settings evoke the untouched, an antipodean Garden of Eden.

Engravings after Westall illustrated Flinders' A Voyage to Terra Australis, 1801 – 1803 when eventually published in London in 1814. Westall’s own publication of engravings, Views of Australian Scenery, appeared that same year. Our Port Jackson Harbour. New Holland is a major preliminary drawing for the watercolours Port Jackson, View of Sydney South Head and Distant View of the Town of Sydney, from Between Port Jackson and Botany Bay (see related works above), and the subsequent engraving View of Port Jackson Taken from South Head, 1814, which illustrated both of the 1814 volumes. Westall’s very fine drawing, Port Jackson Harbour. New Holland, presents history as a lively work of art rich in aesthetic pleasure.

1. Examples are in the Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia, Canberra, and the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
2. Watling, T., Letters from an Exile at Botany Bay to his Aunt in Dumfries, Penrith, 1794, p. 9
3. William Westall letter to Sir Joseph Banks, 1804, quoted in Findley, E., William Westall’s Australian Sketches, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1998, p. 19
4. Port Jackson: A Group of Natives, 1802, pencil drawing, 18.4 x 26.3 cm, National Library of Australia, Canberra, (R4357)

DAVID THOMAS