• Grass Tree Plains, Flinders Island, Tasmaniae Plains, Flinders Island, Tasmania -
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    Signed lower right: J. Skinner Prout

    Watercolour over pencil heightened with bodycolour

    105 x 171 mm., 4 x 7 in.

    Prout was amongst the most talented artists to work in colonial Australia. Born in Plymouth, Devon, his uncle was the artist Samuel Prout (1782-1852). He lived and worked mainly in Bristol where he was a friend of MŁller and Samuel Jackson, with whom he visited Wales and Ireland in the summer of 1833. In 1840 he emigrated to New South Wales with his family. He took up a position in Sydney lecturing on painting whilst exploring the landscape for views that could be used in volumes of prints. He soon became an influential and supportive figure in the nascent art world encouraging, among others, Conrad Martens.

    In January 1844, he travelled to Tasmania and, so enlivened by what he encountered, he returned to New South Wales to collect his family arriving back in Hobart in April. As he had done before, on his arrival here he delivered lectures on the arts and encouraged the artists around him, including Francis Simpkinson de Wesselow. With Tompkinson he explored the region for inspiration for the lithographic series to be later published as Tasmania Illustrated. He travelled widely, his journeys including a visit to Flinders Island. Although Proutís concerns were often primarily with capturing the picturesque rather than with topographical detail, with this and the other sketches taken on Flinders island he records the presence of the few remaining Tasmanian aboriginals, who by this time were a depleted and dejected community. They had been transferred to this and the neighbouring islands in an attempt to protect them from harassment by white settlers in Tasmania. From 1833, the community was centred at Wybalenna on Flinders Island but of the 200 shipped there 150 had perished and in 1847, just a few years after Proutís visit, the settlement was closed. Proutís work of this period, and that of his fellow sketchers, does much to illustrate the fate of this community but also the changing nature of the landscape as it transformed under the impact of the settlers.

    Most of Proutís sketches remain undated but, from a near-identical dated sketch by de Wesselow of the same scene (now in the Tasmanian Library and Art Gallery), we can confidently date this watercolour to February 1845.

    Prout appears to have left Tasmania by the end of 1846, returning to London in 1848 where he spent the remainder of this productive life. He continued to work on the material that he had gathered in Australia reworking many of his sketches for subsequent lithographic publications. Amongst those works to provide inspiration for these later volumes is this sketch which appears in printed form in around 1874. In the print, the three figures have been depicted in a slightly different arrangement, the same as in another watercolour of this subject by Prout in the National Library of Australia. This suggests that the version in the NLA may have been worked from our original by Prout after his return to London in preparation for the later series of lithographs.

  • A Valley with Ferns and Aboriginal Encampment, probably Tasmania -
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    Signed lower left: J. Skinner Prout

    Watercolour over pencil heightened with bodycolour on laid paper

    113 x 76 mm., 4 ľ x 3 in.

    Prout would appear to have taken great delight in the valleys strewn with ferns which he came across both in Van Diemenís Land, later Tasmania, and in New South Wales. He sketched them frequently and used these sketches to develop more finished watercolours on his return to the studio and even once back in Britain.

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