The Art Gallery of Ballarat has an extensive holding of 19th century Australian art, including works on paper, paintings, sculpture and furniture dating from the era before the foundation of the Commonwealth.
Art historians have divided this era into a Colonial period that ended around 1880, and a Federation period that covers the last twenty years of the 19th century. This exhibition, selected from the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s holdings, celebrates the time of first encounters with the animals of the Southern Continent and highlights the prevailing perceptions and depictions of native fauna.
Indigenous Australians had at least 50,000 years to adapt to and familiarise themselves with the unique flora and fauna of this continent. For Europeans the process took place over little more than 250 years. Australian plants and animals were often shockingly different to anything the explorers and settlers had seen before - swans were not meant to be black; mammals were not supposed to lay eggs. Many of these ‘new’ animals were also simply terrifying.
However, there was also an exotic and intriguing beauty to be encountered, documented and published. The European settlement of Australia occurred at exactly the time when advances in science meant that people not only had the means to describe these new discoveries, but the inspiration and interest to do so.
Unknown Artist, Echidna 1860, colour lithograph on paper, 21.1 x 33.2cm. Art Gallery of Ballarat, purchased with funds from the Joe White Bequest, 2016.