J M SKIPPER, Cummins House, Adelaide, with John Morphett and family, and a group of Aborigines in the foreground Enlarge 1 /1


Norwich, Norfolk, England 1815 – Adelaide, Australia 1883

  • Australia from 1836

Cummins House, Adelaide, with John Morphett and family, and a group of Aborigines in the foreground c.1848 Place made: Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, watercolours, painting in watercolour Support: paper

Primary Insc: signed lower right, 'I.M.S.' not dated. not titled.
Dimensions: sheet 38.7 h x 50.8 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2012
Accession No: NGA 2012.1850
  • ollection of Sir John Morphett (1809-1892) and thence by descent to Derek Morphett, by whom given to the present owner.
  • At Auction, 'Australian Art', London: Christie's South Kensington, 10 October 2012, lot 8.
  • Purchased by the National Gallery of Australia, from Christie's South Kensington, 2012.

Fisher’s sister, Elizabeth, was married to Morphett, who was already a prominent and influential member of the colony, and the cup was passed down through the Morphett family. Fisher and Morphett had arrived as colonists in South Australia in 1836, coincidentally the same year that Skipper arrived.

Skipper was one of the earliest South Australian painters. His enthusiasm for sketching meant he soon became popular. He was known for his skilfully observed drawings and paintings of people, landscape and natural history.

His Cummins House, Adelaide, with John Morphett and family, and a group of seated Aborigines, in the foreground depicts the Morphett home in Morphettville, where the Firnhaber cup was located, probably from the time of the distribution of Fisher’s estate in 1906 until the sale of the house and the distribution of its contents to family members. Architect George Kingston designed the five-room, redbrick cottage for Morphett and his family in 1842. It is one of the earliest and most elegant homes to be built in the Adelaide region during the Colonial era.

The watercolour was painted before the house was extended in 1854 with a large drawing room, with a two-thirds circular section and an arched entrance porch. In addition to the house portrait, the watercolour shows Morphett astride a glossy black horse, alongside his wife Elizabeth and their daughter. He is shown surveying his property, with his sheep and cattle grazing behind him. A group of Aboriginal people are seated in the foreground, demonstrating his amicable relations with the Indigenous people of the area.

These two extraordinary pieces of history are on display in the South Australian colonial gallery.

Anne Gray Head of Australian Art, and Robert Bell Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design

in artonview, issue 73, Autumn 2013