Colonial auction collection unrivalled in history

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 16th June, 2016

A set of 10 watercolours dating from about 1813 and depicting the customs and rituals of New South Wales Aborigines is a major highlight of the three-day auction of the remarkable Denis Joachim collection from 2pm Sunday June 19 by Mossgreen at 926-930 High Street, Armadale.

The set – which has remained intact for more than 200 years and is one of the most important records of early indigenous culture still in private hands – was painted by British artist John Heaviside Clark, a mysterious figure who exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy but never actually set foot in Australia.

Despite this, he wrote and painted with great authority on the subject and his 1813-14 publication is seen as the first separate book on Aborigines.

Entitled the New South Wales supplement to Orme’s Foreign Field of Sports, it includes colour plates of the 10 watercolours, explains NSW Aboriginal customs, rituals, manners, habits and state of affairs at the time, and ensured Clark’s ongoing prominence.

Some experts believe Clark may have based his paintings on those of NSW Governor Philip Gidley King (1758-1808), who had an inquiring mind about Aboriginal practices, as the two bodies of work share common themes – including fishing in canoes, figure studies in active poses and families in idle respite.

Denis Joachim spent 55 years assembling his collection that ranges impressively over several fields – from fine to topographical and voyage art, colonial landscape and colonial ethnographic photography, rare and important Australian books and documents and colonial prints.

In short, the collection covers everything that illuminates and illustrates life in colonial times and records the responses of a European sensibility to the new world of the Pacific.

At its heart are 480 lots of important books that chart the colonial history of Australia – from voyager discoveries to the First Fleet and early flora and fauna records – to the formation of Melbourne and Sydney.

Two hundred lots of photographs and albums are arguably the most important in private hands and the early convict period paintings that record the land and people as Australia was explored are without peer.

The auction, which contains 1045 lots and continues on Monday June 20 and Tuesday June 21, includes books that Melbourne’s foundations, early maps and watercolours by Robert Russell, Charles Laing and Wilbraham Liardet, and an exceptional collection of photographic albums from the Lord Loch collection.

Sydney’s earliest years are depicted in a collection of plate books and in James Meehan’s early manuscript map – along with Romuald Georges Menard’s painting and William Blackwood’s stunning photographic panorama.

The Joachim collection also contains a contemporary record of the Australian Gold Rushes including every important illustrated book, goldfield maps, digger’s journal and emigrant’s guides to the goldfields. 

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