John Glover (1767-1849)
John Glover (1767-1849)

Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's property -- four Men catching Opossums

John Glover (1767-1849)
Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's property -- four Men catching Opossums
indistinctly titled 'Ben Lomond from near Mr Talbot's; four of the L[ords] of the [Creat]ion catching opossums' on the artist's label on the stretcher
oil on canvas
30¼ x 45¼in. (76.8 x 114.9cm.)
From the estate of Milo, 7th Baron Talbot de Malahide (1912-1973) of Malahide Castle, Co. Dublin, Republic of Ireland.
J. McPhee, John Glover (exhibition catalogue), Launceston, 1977, no.47, p.54 (illustrated).
J. McPhee, The Art of John Glover, Melbourne, 1980, pp.35, 70 and 90 (illustrated in colour).
D. Hansen, John Glover The Van Diemen's Land sketchbook of 1832-1834 ['Sketchbook No 97 VDLand J Glover began March 22nd 1832'], Hobart, 2003 (unpaginated): 'Moving on to f10r, drawing 71 is inscribed "Benn (sic) Lomond from the Barracks near Mr Talbots"; this is a study for Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's, four Men catching Opossums (c.1853, private collection).'
D. Hansen, John Glover and the Colonial Picturesque (exhibition catalogue), Hobart, 2003, pp.209 and 232-3.
London, 106 Bond Street, Sixty-eight Pictures Descriptive of the Scenery and Customs of the Inhabitants of Van Diemen's Land. Together with Views of England, Italy &c, 1835, ('Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's property - four Men catching Opossums').
Dublin, Exhibition of the Royal Dublin Society, 1864.
Launceston, John Glover, 1977-78, no.47 ('Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's property -- four natives catching opossum').
Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland (on loan, 1989 to 2013).

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Amanda Fuller
Amanda Fuller

Lot Essay

There is a drawing of the subject (fig. 2) in John Glover's sketchbook No 97 (his first Patterdale sketchbook) 'VDLand ... began March 22nd 1832' (f10r, '71 Benn Lomond from the Barracks near Mr Talbots'), in the collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart. The present picture dates to between the second quarter of 1832 (presumably following the drawing in the sketchbook) and the end of 1834 (the picture was one of the sixty-eight pictures which left Launceston for London on 15 January 1835).

One of the sixty-three pictures painted in Tasmania between 1831 and early January 1835 for the 1835 exhibition, and one of the thirty-eight of these of Tasmanian subjects, it is not known if the picture was commissioned by William Talbot, who owned the property in the Fingal Valley, or whether the Talbot family secured the picture after the exhibition in London.

Glover at his new home in Mills' Plains sketched and painted neighbouring farms and properties (such as 'Mr Batman's Ground', 'Ben Lomond from Mr Batmans', 'Major Grey's', 'At Mr Wedges the Western Tier', 'Ben Lomond from near Mr Youls', and later the Langdon's grants and homesteads at Bothwell and Mr Marzetti's property on the Ouse river, in the Central Highlands). If this list of neighbouring properties might recall his modus operandi in the park-lands of the English Midlands around 1800, when he is fulfilling orders for his Lichfield neighbours such as the Gresleys, Curzons and Boothbys, the first Tasmanian paintings are in fact not being painted for local patrons but for the British market. All would be crated and shipped out from Launceston in January 1835 (the four crates of pictures loaded on the Protector with such other colonial wares as wool, 2,175 kangaroo and 300 opossum skins, bark, hides, seal skins and whale bone) to dress the walls of the selling exhibition organised by his son-in-law John Lord in New Bond Street in June that same year.

The canvas is Glover's standard Tasmanian size of 2ft 6in by 3ft 9in.: the same size as the majority of the pictures painted in his first two years and nine months at Patterdale, such as View of Mills' Plains, (AGSA), Australian landscape with cattle; the artist's property, Patterdale (NLA/NGA), Ben Lomond from Mr Batman's Ground (private collection), and A View of the Artist's house and garden, Mills' Plains (AGSA).

Glover's pictures sent to London in 1835 comprise a devout hymnal to his new home, to his own new found 'enchanted landscape'. If Lady Franklin accused him of being a 'pretended Atheist' in a waspish letter to her father written from Launceston in 1841, those who visited him from the time of his arrival in the colony on found rather an evangelist, and one whose belief in art and its sacred duty to civilise matches Duterrau's pious sermons delivered at the Hobart Mechanics Institute:

'[Glover] is delighted with this country -- assures me that Nature is not less singular and essentially distinguished in her landscape than in the animal creation although I might not at present see it ... Glover is a most agreeable old man and he has got into the habit of raising his mind from the Created to the Creator and expresses himself in a strain of sincere and genuine piety. He gives a turn to all his views so that in looking at Nature's works he seems to penetrate into futurity and carries as it were, his sentiment of Landscape beauty beyond the Grave. He really looks through Nature up to Nature's God. He has bought a farm and intends building a house, the principal feature of which will be a Spacious Picture Gallery ... He has some schemes in his head at this time which he will probably abandon after a little time. He intends to reform the Convicts -- no trifling labour -- and to direct the views and regulate the rest of the population, till they shall have arrived at such a state of moral advancement that will make the idea of human perfection no longer Utopian. All this will be chiefly effected by the instrumentality of Art -- Water and Oil. ...' (G.T.W.B. Boyes to Mary Boyes, 20 April, 1831, quoted in D. Hansen, op. cit., p.90)

In this evangelical narrative the Aborigines become creatures from an antediluvian world, 'untaught Savages' (the label on the present work, albeit faded and difficult to read, appears to call them 'Lords of the Creation'). Glover takes an interest in the native Tasmanians, capturing their increasingly fugitive presence on the island in the 1830s; although no figure painter, he sketches them carefully in prisons in Campbell Town and Launceston in 1831-32, in Hobart when the Oyster Bay and Big River tribes are brought into Hobart January 1832, and in January 1834 when Robinson and members of the Western tribes camped near his farm. When Glover moved to the farm in March 1832 he was moving into their territory: 'The first settlers had arrived in this area just six years earlier and it was still frontier territory. Mills' Plains belonged to the Plindermairhemener band of the Ben Lomond tribe, and had been made safe from their defensive forays only in the preceding year, largely through Robinson's efforts and those of Glover's neighbour, John Batman, who had been given permission to import mainland Aborigines to help with his attempts at conciliation. ... About half a dozen 'Sydney natives' and probably some Tasmanians were living with him in 1832, when Glover first got to know him.' (I. McLean in D. Hansen, op. cit., p.125)

At Malahide, settled in 1824 by William Talbot, Aborigines had raided the property in the 1820s, killing one of Talbot's shepherds, and wounding another in 1828. The possum-hunting scene features in another of the 1835 exhibition pictures, Ben Lomond from Mr Batman's Ground, also c.1834, which is, like the present picture, subtitled to describe the human action ('The Natives climbed the tree to shew their method of catching Opposums') in the London catalogue.
'As with his images of corroborees, Glover repeats the possum-hunting scene in several paintings, as an authentic eye-witness ethnographic curiosity. At the time of his first close encounter with Aboriginal people, at Campbell Town Gaol in 1831, he was disappointed that a planned "opossum hunting" expedition was aborted, noting wistfully in a letter to his daughter Emma "Fred [Glover's grandson] would like opossum ... hunting much". As a former bird-nester, he would certainly have been interested in the native method of climbing by chopping progressively higher hand and foot holds in the tree trunk. The "Kingston" demonstration clearly impressed him, and he re-used the motif in Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's, four Men catching Opossums (c.1834, private collection [the present picture]), The Last Muster of the Tasmanian Aborigines at Risdon [Queen Victoria Art Museum, Launceston] ... and Natives on the Ouse River, Van Diemen's Land (1838, Art Gallery of New South Wales).' (D. Hansen, op. cit., p.209)

Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's property is one of the first great Tasmanian landscapes painted by Glover; it is painted in his first flush of activity once he had settled at Patterdale, worked up from a drawing in his first Tasmanian sketchbook, and included in the first shipment of pictures sent to London. As announced in John Lord's catalogue '... it will perhaps be gratifying to his Countrymen to see, from the number of Pictures he has painted in so short a time, that, tho' he has had multifarious occupations his activity & zeal for the Arts have not diminished.'

If Glover largely forsook his favourite medium of watercolour once in Tasmania, this picture, like so many of his Tasmanian pictures, is painted in thinned oil (the oil mixed with copal varnish or megilp to enhance its translucence) on a bright double primed lead white (now cream) ground, on which Glover's finely brushed under-drawing of branches (eucalyptus pentimenti) is still visible through the blues of the sky. The work is closely akin to a watercolour both in construction and effect. By these means Glover was able to depict the distinct nature of the Australian landscape, its peculiarity.
Defined by the strong sunlight, so distinct from the watery light of England, the Australian landscape is accurately conveyed by Glover's thinned colours, translucent on their luminous white ground. With such clear light there are far distant horizons, and there is transparency too in the foregrounds, as Glover remarked, the stuff of the landscape itself becomes transparent ('there is a remarkable peculiarity in the Trees of this Country; however numerous they rarely prevent you tracing through them the whole distant country.')

At the same time as making this genuine response to his new subject matter, Glover making these formal changes to accommodate and represent accurately this different looking landscape, echoes of his master Claude still persist in the formulaic composition. Possum hunting Aborigines and gum trees stand in for Diana and Actaeon and classical ruins to make the framing coulisse of the foreground, the graceful sweep of the River South Esk, which waters Talbot's property, carries us through the middle-ground to the blue-grey mountains of the Ben Lomond massif, terminating in the dramatic cliffs of Stacks Bluff at its western end, in the background.

The Claudean influence also permeates the morality of Glover's Tasmanian vision: 'The Claudean convention presented the classical world, even in ruins, as a civilising force that gave order to the contemporary viewer's sensibilities. In Tasmania, aware that the land had never been part of this classical world, Glover turned to realism. However, being a product of his times, he could not resist looking for some iconic significance that might lend a metaphysical import to his sensibilities, so he invested his landscapes with symbolic intent. In his later years, Glover was a prodigious reader of the Bible, and the Eden myth of loss and recovery underlies all his Australian landscapes. Nevertheless, because he is unable to call on the pictorial conventions of the Classical Golden Age, there is a tension in his optimistic view of reality between the land as a disappearing Eden, on the one hand, and a revived Eden, on the other: Paradise lost and regained.' (J. McPhee in D. Hansen, John Glover and the Colonial Picturesque, Hobart, 2003, p.110)

The Talbot Glover is the fifth great Tasmanian Glover from the 1835 exhibition to have emerged from U.K. and European collections in recent years. The previous four, all lost works, were discovered in private collections in Switzerland and England, and comprised, in order of their appearance at auction, Ben Lomond from Mr Batman's Ground, Phillips, December 1984 (private collection); The River Derwent and Hobart Town, Christie's London, 24 May 1990, lot 90 (TMAG) (fig. 4); A View between the Swan River and King George's Sound, Christie's Melbourne, 4 April 1995, lot 173 (The Wesfarmers Collection, Perth) (fig. 3); and the great Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point (1834), Christie's Melbourne, 27 Nov. 1991, lot 46 (TMAG/NGA) (fig. 5).

Unlike the previous four, the Talbot picture is a published picture, with known provenance, descending in the Talbot family since its acquisition after the 1835 London exhibition. The Hon. William Talbot, the pioneer settler who built Malahide in Van Diemen's Land, was back in Ireland and England in 1835-36 and presumably took the picture to Ireland after its inclusion in the 1835 exhibition. Whether it was commissioned from the artist by Talbot, or acquired at the London exhibition, is unclear. Its first subsequent appearance is at the Dublin exhibition in 1864, to which it was loaned by James Talbot, 4th Baron Talbot of Malahide.

The Hon. William Talbot, scion of the ancient Anglo-Irish family of Talbot, lords of Malahide Castle, County Dublin from 1184 to 1976, named his property in Van Diemen's Land "Malahide" after his ancestral home. William Talbot was the youngest son of Richard Talbot of Malahide Castle and his wife, Margaret, the daughter of James O'Reilley of Ballinough, Westmeath, whose family belonged to the Milesian princely house of Breffney and who, on her husband's death, was created the first Baroness Talbot of Malahide.

Talbot had left England in 1820, prompted by some misfortune, as he wrote to his sister Fanny from the Caroline at Gravesend on 22 July that he was "heartily glad to get away from England and hope I may never set foot upon it again, unless under much better circumstances than I leave it." On 21 February 1821 he wrote to his sister again, from Sydney, announcing his "safe arrival at the Bay" after a monotonous voyage to Van Diemen's Land: 'I remained about a month at Van Diemen's Land, as it is called here, and was much pleased with the country. It is quite beautiful, the greater part of it more resembling Parks in England than an uncultivated country, from its being in many parts but thinly wooded and covered with fine herbage. I prefer it much to this country of which I have also seen a great deal. ... The Governor has given me an order for two thousand acres, which I mean to take in Van Diemen's Land (which place I intend to make my residence), and six convicts alias Robbers, to work for me, who with myself are to be victualised from the King's stores for six months, which, altho' not as much as I expected, as many persons with less pretensions than myself have received twice as much, yet amply repays a man for coming out. ... It is my intention to return to V.D.L. by the first opportunity and commence without delay my wool speculation. ..."

After taking up land on the east coast, only to have to relinquish it on discovering it was land already chosen by another settler, Talbot subsequently selected an extensive river frontage inland at Fingal, Governor George Arthur compensating him for the relocation with convict labour. The first house burnt down after a chimney fire in 1827, but he survived the loss, as well as Aboriginal raids, the threat of bushrangers, and the loss of livestock to thylacines, completing his new house around 1834.

The family's biographical notes on William record that 'Robert wrote to John 27th March, 1828. "Accounts have been received from various quarters, but not from himself, that William is going on very prosperously in Van Diemen's Land. They say he is making from 1500-2000 a year."' Talbot had remarkable success as a wool grower in the late 1820s, and was able to complete the new homestead, Malahide, in 1834, around the time of Glover's visit. Malahide was based on Irish homesteads of the time, and has been described as a ferme ornée (an ornamental farmhouse) built by a gentleman. The original homestead complex was illustrated by an anonymous lithograph published in 1840 (fig. 6).

Talbot travelled to Ireland in 1835, was in England and on the Continent throughout 1836 (presumably securing Glover's picture in London at his time), visited his brother Thomas in Canada in the autumn of 1837, before returning to Van Diemen's Land in 1838. The census return for 1843, signed by Talbot, recorded 54 people living at Malahide, 45 male and nine female, 16 of whom were free, 17 held tickets of leave and 20 were in private assignment. By the time of his death, on 22 December 1845, the property, to be inherited by his nephew Samuel Talbot, comprised an estimated 40,000 acres.

John Glover's Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's property - four Men catching Opossums, about 1834
by John McPhee

John Glover arrived in Launceston, Van Diemen's Land, on 18 February 1831, his sixty-fourth birthday. Within days he was exploring the local landscape and delighting in what he had anticipated 'a new Beautiful World - new landscapes, new trees new flowers new Animals Birds &c &c is delightful to me ' (John Glover to Sir Thomas Phillipps, January 1830, Phillipps Robinson, b124 f92, Bodleian Library, Oxford). His earliest sketches demonstrate his ability to accurately observe and depict the native vegetation, without the nostalgic Claudean conventions that had characterised his fashionable English paintings. His powers of observation, first evident in his earliest English drawings, and the later realism which had been criticised in London, served Glover well and ensured him a significant place in the history of Australian art as the first accurate observer of the antipodean landscape.

In March 1832 Glover, with his wife and family, travelled overland to Mills' Plains in the north of the island. There he settled by the Nile River and named his farm Patterdale, after his home in the Lake District. While his sons were busy running the farm and supervising the building of accommodation for the family and a studio-gallery, John Glover embarked on an extraordinarily busy period of sketching and painting the landscape. By the end of 1834 he had completed sixty-eight paintings, mostly of Tasmanian subjects, to send back to London for exhibition. (A Catalogue of Sixty eight Pictures descriptive of the scenery and customs of the inhabitants of Van Diemen's Land, together with views in England, Italy, &c. painted by John Glover, Esq., 106 New Bond Street, London, 1835)

A sketchbook ('Sketchbook, 1832-33, No. 97', 25 leaves, 17.3 x 25.4 cm, containing sketches of Mills' Plains, Ben Lomond, Hobart Town and Derwent Valley, Tamar River, and portraits of Aborigines and Captain Barclay, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart. Folio 10r, numbered sketch 71, and folio 11r numbered sketch 74) inscribed 'John Glover begun March 22nd 1832', contains pencil, pen and ink sketches recording Glover's journey from Mills' Plains, around Ben Lomond, and down to the east coast of Tasmania. As he enters the Fingal Valley a sketch looking north-west, Benn [sic] Lomond from the Barracks near Mr Talbot's is a study for this painting, while another, St Patrick's Head Break of Day depicts the view to the east as seen from the front of the present Malahide homestead.

Among Glover's earliest Tasmanian landscapes completed from sketches such as these, Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's property - four Men catching Opossums, is remarkable for its realism. The South Esk River meanders through the landscape with Stacks Bluff at the southern end of Ben Lomond outlined against the sky. The lightly wooded landscape, mostly eucalypt, which allows light to penetrate, was described as 'a remarkable peculiarity in the Trees in this Country; however numerous, they rarely prevent your tracing through them the whole distant Country'. (A Catalogue of Sixty eight Pictures ... ., 1835, op. cit., note on no.36, Launceston and the River Tamar). The olive green of eucalypt foliage, the golden browns of late summer grasses, and intense blue of the vast late summer sky, demonstrate Glover's ability to see and depict the landscape with great fidelity to nature.
While the sketch does not include Aboriginal people, throughout the sketchbook there are a number of studies of Aboriginal people and a study depicting a man climbing a tree to hunt possums, obviously the source for this detail (Sketchbook, 1832-33, No. 97, folio 6r, numbered sketch 33). Similarly the sketch does not include the dead and fallen tree in the foreground. The image of Aboriginal people hunting possum, with the hunter climbing a tree by cutting successive footholds as he ascends, occurs in several of Glover's Tasmanian landscapes. An observation made by Glover who came in contact with Tasmanian and Sydney Aboriginal people on the neighbouring property of John Batman (see Ian Mclean, 'Figuring nature: painting the indigenous landscape', in D.Hansen, John Glover and the colonial picturesque, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 2003, for a full account of Glover's encounters with Aboriginal people) it is used as both an ethnographic observation and a comment on how the Aboriginal people lived at one with nature. On the artist's label on the reverse of the painting in which the Aboriginal people are referred to as '... the Lords of Creation ...' we can ascertain something of the artist's attitude towards the original inhabitants of the landscape. While Glover's encounters with Aboriginal people were few, he, like other European settlers in the 1830s, would have been aware of their fate.

In contrast to Glover's paintings which depict evidence of European settlement and the benefits of civilization, as well as a more obvious threat to the existence of the Aboriginal people's traditional way of life, the vast wilderness depicted in Ben Lomond from Mr Talbot's property is unthreatening. There is no evidence of European settlement, other than in the painting's title. However, the fallen tree may serve as a barrier to any European wanting entrance to this world, and the prominent inclusion of the fallen tree in the foreground is a potent symbol. Man is at one with nature in this edenic wilderness. The vastness is an acknowledgement of God's presence in nature and the physical as symbolic of the metaphysical.

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