Related Works: Portrait of Matilda Stanfield, circa 1834, oil on canvas, 68.5 x 56 cm, Private collection
Benjamin Duterrau was born the son of a watchmaker in London and was of Huguenot descent. Along with working in his family's watchmaking business in New Bond Street, he apprenticed as an engraver and found work in this field and as a painter in London in his early years. the records of the Royal Academy indicate that he exhibited six portraits between 1817 and 1823. This work is listed by the Society of British Artists as being exhibited at their Suffolk Street Galleries, London in 1824.
Duterrau married a Miss Perigal who was the daughter of his family's partner in the watch making business. From the Royal Academy and Society of British Artists records it can be ascertained that Duterrau was establishing himself as a portrait painter. This genre of painting had become increasingly poplular in the changing society of the early nineteenth century as the growth in the monied middle classess occurred. It was a time when more and more people were wanting representations of their family members, and were able to afford to pay for the privilege.
It is possible that Children in the Wood was painted more as an exercise in displaying the artis's wares than as a commissioned work. It shows a loving pair of siblings in a idyllic setting, a verdant wood, watched over by the hunter and the undisturbed red robin. The artist went to use the exact composition of the smaller child in his later Tasmania work Portrait of Matilda Stanfield, painted approximately ten years later. There is little doubt that he would have worked to a well-tried and successful formula.
In 1832 Duterrau migrated to Hobart with his daugther to take up a position of drawing master at Ellinthorp Hall in Van Dieman's Land. However someone else due to a probable late arrival filled the position. Upon losing his teaching job he opened a studio. @He advertised in the Hobart Town Courier, that having arranged the paintings which he recently brought with him from London, he will be happy to exhibit them to such ladies or gentleman as may which to view or purchase any of them, as well as follow his profession of portrait painting." (J Kerr, op.cit., p. 231)
Hobart was a hive of artistic activity in the early to mid ninteenth sentury. John Skinner Prout arrived in 1843 and the first picture gallery in Australia was built there mid decade. There also was an active artist's society that encouranged and developed a place where artists could lecture on art history and technique. Indeed Duterrau gave his first lecture on painting in Australia in 1833 at the Hobart Mechanic's Institute and actively participated in this field until the time of his death.
Duterrau is best known for his monumental work The Conciliation depicting the Methodist guardian George Augustus Robinson surrounded by a group of Tasmania aboriginies, in the collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. He was extremely interested in the plight of the aboriginies and recorded their likenesses in oils and in bas relief. At the same time it is apparent that he continued his early-learnt trade of painting portraits of the local European settlers and their children, some of which are today held in major national institutions.