Robert DOWLING, Mrs Adolphus Sceales with Black Jimmie on Merrang Station Enlarge 1 /1

On display on Level 1

Robert DOWLING

Essex, England 1827 – London, England 1886

  • Australia 1834-1857, 1884-1886

Mrs Adolphus Sceales with Black Jimmie on Merrang Station 1856 Place made: Merrang Station and Geelong, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas mounted on plywood

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: 76.0 h x 101.5 w cm framed (overall) 96.7 h x 122.5 w x 4.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Founding Donor Fund 1984
Accession No: NGA 84.260

When Dowling painted this extraordinary mourning scene, Jane Sceales (née Paton) was a 34-year-old widow with young children. In 1848 Jane had come to Australia from Scotland to marry Adolphus Sceales and raise a family. This painting is a tribute to her husband, who had died in 1853. The work evokes a shared life, sadly cut short. As a commemorative picture it is unusual because it does not include Mr Sceales, but simply the chestnut mount waiting for its absent rider, and the dogs that had belonged to him.

In 1852 Adolphus purchased Merrang, a huge property in the Western District of Victoria, where this image was painted. The word ‘merrang’ meant brown snake to the Mopors, the displaced local Indigenous people. Jimmie, the young groom, was one of many Indigenous people employed on Merrang and neighbouring properties. This painting is significant for the way it portrays an Indigenous Australian co-existing with European settlers.

Robert Dowling was the first important colonial artist to be trained in Australia. He came to Tasmania with his parents in 1834 at the age of seven. In 1850 he became a painter, and in 1854 moved to Geelong, Victoria, where he gained a reputation for his portraits. He returned to Britain in 1857.


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

When Robert Dowling painted this extraordinary mourning scene, Jane Sceales (née Paton) was a 34-year-old widow with young children. In 1848 Jane had come to Australia from Scotland to marry Adolphus Sceales and raise a family. This painting is a tribute to her husband, who had died in 1853. The work evokes a shared life, sadly cut short. As a commemorative picture it is unusual because it does not include Adolphus, but simply the chestnut mount awaiting its absent rider, and the dogs that had belonged to him.

In 1852 Adolphus purchased Merrang, a huge property in the Western District of Victoria, where this image was painted. The word ‘merrang’ meant brown snake to the Mopors, the displaced local Indigenous people. Jimmie, the young groom, was one of many Indigenous people employed on Merrang and neighbouring properties. This painting is significant for the way it portrays an Indigenous Australian co-existing with European settlers.

Dowling was the first important colonial artist to be trained in Australia. He came to Tasmania with his parents in 1834 at the age of seven. In 1850 he became a painter, and in 1854 moved to Geelong, Victoria, where he gained a reputation for his portraits. He returned to England in 1857.


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

The artist Robert Dowling took drawing lessons from a number of Tasmanian artists, including Thomas Bock, and became the first important colonial artist trained in Australia. In 1854, he moved to Geelong, Victoria, intent on making a reputation as a portrait painter.

When Dowling painted this extraordinary mourning tableau, Jane Sceales (née Paton) was a 34-year-old widow with young children. Her husband, Adolphus, had died some two years earlier; the groom-held chestnut mount had been his, the dogs as well. In 1848, Jane had come out from Scotland to marry and raise a family in Australia. In 1852, Adolphus purchased ‘Merrang’, a huge 44,910-acre run on the Hopkins River in the Western District of Victoria. The painting’s imagery evokes a shared life, sadly cut short.

In 1856, in the Kilnoorat Church, Jane remarried. Her second husband, Robert Hood, was another emigrant Scot and a widower with a family. He went on to purchase ‘Merrang’ from Sceales’s trustees for £11,000 and so Jane, who lived until 1910, became the matriarch of a notable pastoral family. Their descendants still own the property.

‘Merrang’ meant brown snake to the Mopors, the displaced local Indigenous tribe. Jimmie, the young groom, was one of many Aboriginal people employed on ‘Merrang’ and neighbouring properties, as was Jane’s long-serving housemaid Jeanie, who died there in 1899. The men worked as station hands and their horsemanship and skill with stock were particularly admired. The artist Eugene von Guérard celebrated this in Cutting out the cattle, Kangatong, painted for James Dawson, the anthropologist–pastoralist and Hood’s friend, in 1855.

Jimmie looked after the stables and cared for 24 horses on ‘Merrang’. I like to think he worked with them as welland perhaps, like his Mopor cousin Johnnie, head stock-keeper on Dawson’s ‘Kangatong’, galloped freely across the lush green open woodland plains that no longer belonged to his people.

John Jones, 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

Description

This is a painting by colonial Australian artist Robert Dowling (1827-86) depicting widow Jane Sceales on her vast property ‘Merrang’ in the Western District of Victoria. Produced as a mourning tribute to her husband, the painting is shown as an enlargeable image and in a video. Text onscreen gives information on the narrative of the portrait and Dowling’s life. The video soundtrack highlights the history of the Sceales and the importance of Robert Dowling as an artist. The painting measures at 76.0 cm high x 101.5 cm wide and was painted with oil on canvas mounted on plywood.

Educational value

  • This is an excellent resource for the Responding strand in the years 7 and 8 visual arts curriculum, especially for those content descriptions that refer to considering the broader context of works of art, such as their social, cultural and historical context and role of the artist and of the audience/s. It is also useful for content descriptions in the years 5 and 9 history curriculum that refer to aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants, including Aboriginal peoples and to the effects of contact between European settlers in Australia and Aboriginal peoples.
  • The work is of considerable significance for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures cross-curriculum priority. It exemplifies part of the second organising idea in relation to Aboriginal peoples: the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples can be viewed through historical, social and political lenses. The context of Robert Dowling’s work and his subject matter makes this clear.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra