THE SYDNEY BIRD PAINTER, not titled [The white gallinule]. Enlarge 1 /1

THE SYDNEY BIRD PAINTER

not titled [The white gallinule]. 1791 or 1792) Place made: England
Materials & Technique: drawings, drawing in brush and ink with watercolour Support: cream laid paper

Primary Insc: not signed. not dated. inscribed beneath the drawing in pen and black ink, over black pencil, 'Drawn by scale, 1/2 the Natural Size - Bird of Lord Howe Island / this bird frequently uses his feet to feed like the Parrot - has a spur on the wing'.
Tertiary Insc: Inscribed verso upper right in ink, '10'.
Dimensions: image 32.5 h x 30.0 w cm sheet 47.3 h x 30.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2000
Accession No: NGA 2000.461
Subject: Bird
Provenance:
  • At auction, 'Australian and European Paintings, Prints and Photographs', Melbourne: Christie's, 6-7 December 1994, lot 64, part of group of ten works, lots 62-72, 'Attributed to the artist of volume ZPXD 226 (Mitchell Library Reference)';
  • Christie's note the following provenance:
  • 'From a Canadian collection.
  • Christie's have been advised that the collection belonged to an Englishwoman who migrated to Canada in the 1950s, and who in turn inherited them from a 'seafaring relative' in the 1920s'.
  • Purchased by the National Gallery of Australia, from Sotheby's Australia, Melbourne, December 2000;
  • From the auction, 'The Willcoox Collection of Important Australian natural History Paintings & Books', Melbourne: Sotheby's, 29 November 2000, lot 4.

Following his detailed mapping of the eastern coast of Australia in 1770, Captain James Cook returned to England to a scientific community amazed by his expeditions and by the extraordinary birds, plants and animals collected during the Endeavour’s voyage. The first European settlers who followed Cook also documented the wildlife of their new home. This exquisitely rendered drawing of a white gallinule—or Lord Howe swamphen—was probably painted by the Sydney Bird Painter, the name given to possibly three different unknown artists who may have arrived with the First Fleet in 1788.

This watercolour is one of only three known versions of the curious white gallinule, the others being held in the Raper and Watling collections at London’s Natural History Museum. Rendered in fine detail, the pigments are still fresh and bright.

With the growth in settlement and lack of supplies to Lord Howe Island, the flightless gallinule became an easy target as a food source and was eventually hunted to extinction, adding to the poignancy of this rare work.

 

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

Following his discovery of the eastern coast of Australia in 1770, Captain James Cook returned to England to a scientific community amazed by his expeditions and by the extraordinary birds, plants and animals collected during the Endeavour’s voyage.

The first white settlers who followed Cook also documented the curious wildlife of their new home. This skilfully rendered drawing of a White Gallinule was probably painted by the Sydney Bird Painter, the name attributed to possibly three different unknown artists, who may have arrived with the First Fleet in 1788. 

‘A peculiar bird, the White Gallinule was one of a multitude of fauna first discovered on Lord Howe Island when Lieutenant Ball landed there in the Supply in March 1788. Like the unfortunate Mount Pitt bird of Norfolk Island that the Sydney Bird Painter also depicted, the White Gallinule was flightless and tragically hunted to extinction. The skin of only one White Gallinule has survived white settlement, enhancing the poignancy of this rare contemporary drawing.’1

Anne McDonald

1Richard Neville, Sotheby’s catalogue, Sale AU645, Willcox Collection, Melbourne, 8 November 2000, Lot 4.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002