Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 August 2012


(1813 - 1895, British/Australian)

oil on canvas

35.5 x 30.5 cm each

Framer's label attached to frame verso: Lawrence Cetta, George Street, opp. The Royal Hotel, Sydney

$20,000 - 30,000 (2)
Sold for $14,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 26 - 29 August 2012, Melbourne

Private collection, Sydney
Raffan, Kelaher and Thomas, Sydney, 16 August 2008, lot 33 (as artist unknown)
Private collection, Melbourne


Buscombe, E., Artists in Early Australia and their Portraits, Sydney, 1978, pp. 89–95
Pearce, B., and Kerr, J., 'Joseph Backler' entry in Kerr, J. (ed.), The Dictionary of Australian Artists: Painters, Sketchers, Photographers and Engravers to 1870, Oxford University Press, Melbourne,1992, pp. 35–36

Catalogue text

Convicted in 1831 for passing forged cheques, at the age of 18 Joseph Backler was sentenced to death, later commuted to transportation for life, arriving in Sydney in the Portland on 25 May 1832. Records described him as a landscape painter by profession. He was assigned to the Surveyor-General's Department under Major Thomas Mitchell as a draftsman, but suspected of being involved in further offences, he was sent to Port Macquarie in May 1833. He remained there for nine years during which time he accumulated a considerable record of further offences and punishment. In February 1842 he negotiated a ticket-of-leave and from 1843 was assigned to Messrs Cetta & Hughes, frame makers and carvers in Sydney. The Cetta and Hughes partnership lasted until 1845, after which time the Italian-born Lawrence Cetta worked alone before returning to Europe early 1853. The artist's residence shared the same address as Cetta's framing business and in January 1845 Backler advertised a portrait pair to be viewed at 'the Artist's residence opposite the Royal Hotel, George Street'. The 'L. Cetta' framer's label appears on the reverse of one of the portraits on offer.

Backler was granted a conditional pardon in 1846, allowing him to travel to country districts. By mid-1846 he was based in Goulburn advertising for portrait commissions in the district. Portraits of the Sinclair family in the collection of the Mitchell Library, Sydney were commissioned at this time and three are housed in Lawrence Cetta frames. Backler's portrait of Councillor Iredale was exhibited at The First Exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Australian held June-August 1947. Following the exhibition the artist was listed amongst the Colony's'artistical body' in Heads of the People. In 1849, after returning from Bathurst, Backler was advertising for portrait commissions in Sydney, from his George Street address opposite the Barracks. Throughout the 1850s he remained active in Sydney and regional areas. In the early 1860s Backler visited northern New South Wales and Queensland, in Brisbane painting the portrait of Sir Gilbert Eliott, first Speaker of the Queensland Legislative Assembly (Brisbane Civic Museum and ArtGallery, Town Hall Brisbane).

'With few exceptions, his client base has been drawn from the upper working and lower middle classes: publicans, builders, millers, ship-owners, shop owners, and farmers - people who had done well in the colonies.'1

The Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales holds an extensive collection of over forty portraits and landscapes by Joseph Backler.

1. Neville, R.,'Joseph Backler (1813-1895)' entry in Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, Canberra, 2005