Conrad MARTENS, Campbell's Wharf Enlarge 1 /2
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Crutched Friars, England 1801 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1878


  • Australia from 1835

Campbell's Wharf 1857 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, watercolours, painting in watercolour with highlights in gum arabic Support: thick white wove paper

Primary Insc: signed and dated lower right in watercolour, 'C Martens 1857'. not titled.
Dimensions: image 46.0 h x 66.0 w cm sheet 46.0 h x 66.0 w cm framed 67.1 h x 88.4 w x 7.3 d cm
Acknowledgement: Members Acquisition Fund 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.131
  • Purchased from the artist by John Campbell; thence by descent to the present owners.
  • At Auction: Important Australian Art, Sydney: Sotheby's Australia, 5 May 2009, lot 214, illustrated in colour, estimate $300,000 - $400,000.
  • Purchased at auction by the National Gallery of Australia, from Sotheby's Australia, Sydney, 2009.

From his arrival in 1835 until his death in 1878, Conrad Martens was the most celebrated artist in Sydney. Although a skilled painter in oils, his greatest works were executed in watercolour, and Campbell’s Wharf is among his most ambitious compositions.

Commissioned by John Campbell in 1857, the work portrays the income source of the Campbell family, whose eighteenth and nineteenth century business interests encompassed wharfing, storing and merchant shipping.

On the right is Campbell’s Wharf and warehouses that stretched along the west side of Sydney Cove. To their left are the old Campbell residence and the new Mariners Church. In the centre of the painting rises the four-storied Miles Building, and to its left juts the Cumberland Place buildings along the skyline. All this is viewed through a jumble of trading vessels, the source of the Campbell family wealth.

The painting is, however, more than a depiction of maritime industry and family property. Martens was well acquainted with the work of the British painter JMW Turner, whose romantic landscapes are suffused with delicate evocations of light. Silhouetted against a soft pink sky, Martens transforms an industrial setting into a picturesque landscape awash with luminous colour.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014