Australian colonial artist's rare works excite Sydney auction interest

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 18th March, 2019

Rare and substantial works by an accomplished Australian colonial artist, providing new perspectives on important aspects of mid-19th century Australian art and life, will be auctioned from 6.30pm Thursday March 28 by Menzies at its Sydney gallery at 12 Todman Avenue, Kensington.

Thomas Tyrwhitt Balcombe (1810-1861) was a well-known colonial identity, field surveyor and professional artist who won many awards and medals for his efforts – and whose works until recently were few and far between.

Most known examples were held or snapped up by national bodies such as the National Library of Australia and the State Library of New South Wales.

A revival of interest and reassessment of the importance of Australian colonial artists has greatly enhanced Balcombe’s reputation, whose early career developed under explorer Thomas Mitchell and the New South Wales Surveyor-General’s Department and equipped him for his career as a professional artist.

This auction has seen the release of the family collection, the largest body of his works to go public, building on the successful Menzies December 2015 sale of seven of his sketches.

The collection of 100 pen and ink, pencil, wash drawing and watercolours comprises intimate portraits of family and friends, topographical landscapes, portrayals of Aboriginal people and life, popular pastimes and scenes of the New South Wales goldfields.

Of these, lot 56 – a self-portrait painted in the mid-1850s – is an outstanding example. It parallels other family portraits including those of his wife Lydia Stuckey and their beloved eldest daughter Jane who died aged only 18.

Lot 57 – Gundaroo Natives 1853 – is equally fascinating for its depiction of Aboriginal life and the influence of white settlement upon the native population.

The remainder of the auction is a typical Menzies offering of high end works by influential and iconic Australian artists such as Brett Whiteley, John Brack, Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, Jeffrey Smart, Garry Shead and Lloyd Rees.  

The highlights include Whiteley’s The Paddock – Late Afternoon 1979 (with Menzies providing the estimate on request), Brack’s Green Nude 1971 ($300,000-$380,000), Rees’s Song to Creation – Land 1969 and Shead’s The Studio 2001 and The Crowning Glory 1998.  

Other attractions include Smart’s Level Crossing 1997, Blackman’s Hill Farmer 1954, Boyd’s The Cleft, Shoalhaven c1990, Lin Onus’s Fish and Storm Clouds 1994 and Uta Uta Tjangala’s Untitled 1975.

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