Liverpool, England 1803 – Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 1853
Fish on a blue and white plate
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
Fishing enthusiasts will find the seven fish difficult to identify in W. B. Gould’s Fish on a blue and white plate, but they are possibly Australian redbait or teraglin. If Gould did indeed depict these fish from actual specimens, then it represents an early instance of the meeting in colonial art of natural history painting and the conventional still-life form. Although Gould worked as a natural history artist for colonial officials, like other colonial artists he rarely showed interest in Australian flora and fauna as subjects for his still-lifes. Most of his paintings followed standard European models and presented European flowers, fruit and game. However, he painted Fish on a blue and white plate towards the end of his life, when perhaps he felt able to move away from the European examples; in his attention to detail in depicting the fish and the fly, he suggested a new interest in natural history.
In England, Gould had first worked as a printer–lithographer and then in the Staffordshire potteries. In 1827 at the age of 24, he was transported for seven years to Van Dieman’s Land for stealing clothes. In Tasmania, he worked as a natural history painter and, when serving time in the penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour, drew marine life and animals for an amateur scientist. After attaining his ticket-of-leave, he earned a meagre living from his still-life paintings and often paid for his drink by giving the hotelier one of his works.
Despite Gould’s carefully composed, overlapping composition, the fish in Fish on a blue and white plate seem to be floating. This approach is characteristic of his work and may be a result of his early experience of painting decorative images on ceramics at the potteries in England.
Barbara Brinton, 2002
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