Over the past twenty years three previously unknown Australian
subject paintings by John Glover have been discovered.They are
Natives in the Eucalypt Forest on Mills Plains, Patterdale Farm, the artist 's home,before Ben Lomond;The River Derwent and Hobart Town, Painted on the spot; and A View between the Swan River
and King George 's Sound.
Knowing that the paintings John Glover sent back for exhibition in England in the 1830s which remained in the family 's possession, were destroyed during the 1940 blitz on London in the Second World War, the discovery of another Australian subject in a private collection is almost miraculous.It is also a large painting of great consequence
Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point; these Natives Danced and Bathed at the request of the Artist. The Females are very expert in the Water, the Heels of one Woman are perceptible above the Water, was in the first group of works Glover sent back to his son-in-law John Lord to have exhibited in London. It was catalogue number forty-six in the exhibition which was accompanied by A Catalogue of Sixty-eight Pictures descriptive of the Scenery & Customs of the Inhabitants of Van Diemen 's Land.Together with Views of England, Italy, &c. Painted by John Glover Esq. Now exhibiting, at 106, New Bond Street, London. The extensive descriptive title for this and other paintings are taken from this catalogue.
The painting depicts Hobart, with Mt Wellington behind, from
Kangaroo Point, now a small park in the suburb of Bellerive. This
popular vantage point provided a splendid panorama for numerous artists before and after John Glover, including Knud Bull, Henry Gritten and Eugene von Guerard. However, Glover, unlike any other artist, invested the scene with historical and metaphorical drama,and paints an image of change at its most destructive.
On the distant shore, bathed in sunlight, but beneath a cloudy
sky and with the shadowy Mt Wellington behind, the infant convict settlement of Hobart Town spreads out along the river.
Settled in 1804, and already dominated by the white spire of St David 's church, the town 's neat rows of houses are laid out with military precision. Government House close-by, the barracks on the rise to the left, and along the river 's edge the wharves and stores, and a harbour bustling with activity,indicate the purpose and prosperity of the settlement. Ominously in The Paddock, later known as The Domain, the red-coats can be seen on parade or drilling. As those who maintained law and order in the convict settlement they had, in 1830, walked the Black Line in a futile attempt to round-up the Aboriginal tribes who were thought to be antagonizing the settlers. The Europeans had come to stay and the marks they had made on the landscape were indelible.
The effect their presence was having on the Aboriginal inhabitants was understood to be dire.
In the foreground, in a landscape seemingly untouched by European settlement, a large number of Aboriginals hunt, dance and swim. They appear in harmony with the lightly wooded landscape, with its mixture of eucalyptus and the prominent she-oak, through which an ancient coastal walking trail is visible.
They are content in their way of life in which the men hunt for kangaroo and wallaby and the women perform their traditional task of gathering crayfish and shellfish.
Glover 's title for this painting records that the men 's dance and the women 's demonstration of their ability in the water was carried-out at his request. From his earliest days in Tasmania he had shown an interest in the Aboriginal people as individuals, their customs and way of life. Throughout his sketchbooks there are studies indicating his interest in how they climbed trees, hunted, and swam. Several paintings record the ways in which they danced, climbed trees to hunt and lived at peace with the landscape. In observing and depicting their corroborees he recorded in the title of one painting 'one seldom sees such gaiety in a Ball Room, as amongst these untaught Savages.'
In this painting he subtly contrasts the informal Aboriginal corroboree with the drill of the red-coats.
Although not trained or skilled as a portrait or figure painter Glover was sufficiently interested in the Aboriginals to make a series of portrait sketches with names recorded alongside them and images showing dancing Aboriginals and figures at rest, exist in two sketchbooks. The drawings in the sketchbook begun in March 1832, could be considered studies for several of the figures in this painting. Undoubtedly at the time when he painted this scene, Glover, and many other settlers, were aware that they were witnessing the extermination of a race.
This painting, like several other of his works, is a careful record of the way of life of a race soon to be extinct.
Glover arrived in Hobart on 1 April 1831 and was soon settled and spending much of his time sketching and painting. The River Derwent and Hobart Town ; Painted on the spot is undoubtedly one of his earliest attempts at depicting the Australian Landscape. Hobart Town taken from the Artist 's Garden, the Geraniums, Roses & c will give some idea to what perfection Gardens may be brought in this Country. To the left of the Church is the Government House; the Barracks are on the Eminence to the right, dated 1832, depicts the view from his first
dwelling in Hobart and is the counterpart to this painting, looking back to Hobart from the opposite shore, in subject and size.
There are sketches for a view of Hobart from Kangaroo Point in several sketchbooks, but only two other paintings of this dimension are known: its complementary painting Hobart Town taken from the Artist 's Garden and Mills Plains, an idyllic image of an Arcadian landscape in which Aboriginal people happily live.
Dated 1832, Hobart Town taken from the Artist 's Garden
was almost certainly finished in Hobart. However, the thinner paint, typical of Glover 's later work, is more evident in Hobart from Kangaroo Point. The paint work in Mills Plains appears even thinner, almost like watercolour, a technique for which Glover was famous, but which he seems to have evolved to capture the qualities and effects of light and colour in the Australian landscape.
On 12 March 1832, a little less than a year after arriving in Hobart, Glover and his family had set-out overland to the property he had been granted in the north east of Tasmania. Settled at patterdale on the Nile River at Deddington, Glover devoted himself to working-up paintings from his sketches and finishing paintings begun on the voyage out to Australia and in Hobart.By 1834 he had sufficient to send sixty-three paintings to London for exhibition in June 1835. Thirty-eight of these paintings were of Tasmanian subjects. Over the years it has been possible to positively identify some paintings as those exhibited in the 1835 exhibition.
The re-discovery of Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point, another painting from the 1835 exhibition, gives us a further insight into John Glover 's vision of Tasmania. His remarkable ability,as one of the first professional artists working in Australia,to capture accurately the quality of Australian light and the colour of the bush, is brilliantly displayed in this painting.
Similarly the painting shows his fascination in depicting details of Aboriginal customs and lifestyle. But, most importantly, he paints an image which shows us the natural ease with which the Tasmanian Aboriginals lived in their peaceable kingdom, an elegance which contrasts with the regimented rows of buildings and the drill of red-coats on the distant shore.
We are grateful to John McPhee for providing this catalogue entry