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Back Book Title The national picture

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The national picture
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- Tim Bonyhady ; Greg Lehman
- Australia
- National Gallery of Australia
- 9780642334763
- 2018
- 256 pages 27cm
- DU - Oceania (South Seas)
- 1425 gms.
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Benjamin Duterrau and his National picture project are at the core of this publication because he was the colonial artist most interested in Tasmania's Aboriginal people, and the only artist who chose to depict, on a substantial scale, their conciliation or pacification by George Augustus Robinson. While Duterrau's weaknesses as an artist are obvious, his limited skill largely saved him from bombast - a recurrent problem with history painting of his era. Despite the disappearance of much of his work, Duterrau also left us with a rich array of often striking images of individuals and subjects of great enduring significance, where there otherwise would be none. They provide us with a vital means of conjuring the past. For Tasmanian Aboriginal people today, Duterrau's paintings provide a tantalising and rare visual record of the unique culture practice of their ancestors. Robinson's journals offer written descriptions of activities, such as spear-making and throwing, kangaroo hunting and ceremonial dance, accompanied by only a scattering of small, often crude sketches, which are vitally important firsthand observations. But it was Duterrau, alone among colonial artists in Van Diemen's Land, who painted these scenes on a large scale. His anatomical modelling may be poor, but Duterrau's paintings have a sense of life that is not found elsewhere, and reflect his well-documented sympathy for Aboriginal people at the hands of a violent invading force. This publication is also framed around an image conceived by Tasmania's Surveyor-General George Frankland almost three years before Duterrau arrived in Hobart. The catalyst was Frankland's discovery that Aboriginal culture included a visual language. On a visit to the island's far north-west, he encountered drawings on trees and inside huts that included depictions of colonists. Words having manifestly failed because of the settlers' ignorance of Aboriginal languages, Frankland thought art could provide a novel means of communication and created a series of drawings that he described as depicting 'the cause of the present warfare' and the 'real wishes of the government' towards Aboriginal people: 'the desired termination of hostility'. His plan was that these drawings be reproduced and distributed around the bush, fastened on trees, where Aboriginal people were most likely to see them. He was so excited by this idea that, in February 1829, he wrote about it twice in the course of a week - to the colony's Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, and to a member of the Colonial Office in London, advocating this use of pictures as an experiment worth trying since 'everything ought to be tried to accomplish a reconciliation'. Australian

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