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Nineteenth Century natural history art and belonging in Tasmania

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Hansen, A (2013) Nineteenth Century natural history art and belonging in Tasmania. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to advance knowledge of the significance of nineteenth century natural history art in the ‘sense of belonging’, the ‘sense of place’, in Tasmania. Roslynn Haynes notes, ‘The notion of a ‘sense of place’ has become increasingly important in recent times, and nowhere more acutely than in Tasmania’.1 Haynes, like many other writers, looks to landscape to interpret this ‘sense of place’. In this thesis I present a parallel narrative using a much under-analysed form of art practice, that is, natural history art and I will demonstrate that natural history art is of profound importance in imaging a ‘sense of place’ and the transition from British colony to independent state.
As members of a colony shift their perception of themselves as being at the periphery of an empire, and begin to imagine themselves at the centre of their own unique society, they begin to create their own history as they become a settler society. It is in the content of their cultural institutions—the museums, art galleries and libraries—that we can see what is deemed to be of significance to that ‘sense of place’. Tasmania’s cultural institutions contain extensive collections of natural history art; collections that are even now being added to and that help document this connection to place.
In this thesis I examine the works of six natural history artists and two landscape artists, to illustrate how a post-colonial interpretation changes the context of their art practice through time, and how that can be seen to be analogous to changes in ‘sense of belonging’ to place—from European discovery, colonisation, to independent society. The protagonists are the explorers Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Ferdinand Bauer, the convict artist William Buelow Gould, early settlers Mary Morton Allport and Louisa Anne Meredith, the Tasmanian-born William Archer, and the landscape artists John Glover and William Charles Piguenit. I also look at the role of natural history art in the collections of cultural institutions of two other lands, Canada and New Caledonia, to examine the role of natural history art in the collections of their cultural institutions.
Conclusion
As a colony moves from being at the periphery of an imperial power towards independence, it needs to construct its own separate history and identity. What is collected in the cultural institutions of that colony indicates what is deemed significant by the members of that settler society. The transference of allegiance can be linked to the transference of material artefacts and natural history art figures strongly in this. In Tasmania, natural history art has an important role in identifying place, which I believe fulfils a role not seen in New Caledonia or Canada. The artists and the art works I have selected demonstrate the change of perception of Tasmania from space to place, as settlers formed a sense of belonging to their new home.
The cultural institutions of Tasmania continue to add to their nineteenth century natural history illustrations. The continued acquisition of these artefacts—in the form of original illustrations, as singular prints, and as monographs—is evidence of the hold that these images have in the imagination of Tasmanians. While, as Dr Haynes argues, the inhabitants of the society see the representation of the landscape as an important signifier of ‘the sense of place’ that is felt by members of that community, so natural history illustration also provides an extremely important, but under-researched, form of representation in Tasmania. Natural history illustrations are celebrated not only as representations of the State’s unique flora and fauna, but they also contribute significantly to that community’s powerful ‘sense of belonging’ to place.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: natural history art, Tasmania, belonging, settler society, post colonial
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2013 the author

Date Deposited: 13 Sep 2013 02:00
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2017 01:06
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