Providing a window onto everyday life on the goldfields and in the bush, cities and towns of 19th-century Australia, this first-ever retrospective brings a lifetime of ST Gill’s work to light, showcasing more than 200 paintings, drawings, watercolours and prints drawn from the collections of the State Library Victoria and National Library of Australia along with loans from the Art Gallery of South Australia and the State Library of NSW – broadly reflecting the places Gill worked in his lifetime.
From 1839 to 1880, ST Gill created some of the most memorable images of urban and rural life in colonial Australia. Gill captured Australian life, particularly in ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ on the goldfields and in rural Australia, more completely and with more social insight than any other artist of the period.
Prospectors, Aboriginal Australians, larrikins and swagmen – see classic Australian characters brought to life in the vibrant imagery of ST Gill, the most significant artist of the colonial era but now a forgotten name. From Dead Man’s Creek to Diggers Rest, Gill captures the essence of our young nation – its resilience, dry humour and, above all, its love of an underdog.
Samuel Thomas Gill (1818–1880) was a prolific artist and illustrator working in colonial Australia from the mid-19th century. Gill arrived in South Australia from England in December 1839, and within four months had established a studio in Adelaide offering ‘to produce portraits of human beings, horses and dogs, and to sketch houses’. His artwork in South Australia includes drawings made on an exploring party to the Spencer Gulf and portraits of prominent South Australians.
In 1852, he went to the Victorian goldfields where he completed perhaps his best-known representations of every-day life on the diggings. He spent many years travelling in Victoria and New South Wales, sketching what he saw and producing lithographs intended to appeal to colonists and those in Britain with an interest in Australia.
He returned to Melbourne in 1864 and soon published The Australian Sketchbook. Alongside Gill’s depictions of the digger life, horses and bushmen were a commonly represented in his work. Historian WH Newnham observed that Gill’s ‘fame and fortune was to last just about as long as the gold-rush period’. He died penniless on 27 October 1880.
A collaborative project of the State Library Victoria and the National Library of Australia, Australian sketchbook: Colonial life and the art of ST Gill draws on the substantial colonial collections of each institution, and is complemented by a host of free programming, including guided tours, illuminating discussions and curator presentations. A series of satellite exhibitions will be held in Gill heartland areas of regional Victoria including Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine and Geelong.
Australian sketchbook: Colonial life and the art of ST Gill
Keith Murdoch Gallery – State Library of Victoria
Exhibition: 17 July – 25 October 2015
For more information, visit: www.slv.vic.gov.au for details.
Image: ST Gill, Australian sketchbook, 1864-65, chromolithograph (State Library of Victoria)