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image icon 'Captain Charles Sturt', c1853

'Captain Charles Sturt', c1853
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This is a life-size portrait in oils, measuring 141.0 cm x 110.5 cm, by colonial artist John Crossland (1800-58). It was painted in about 1853 and shows the famous Australian explorer Captain Charles Sturt standing in a room, possibly a library or study. It is a three-quarter portrait, which means that the figure is shown from above the knees. Sturt's pose is relaxed - his left hand rests lightly on his hip while his right hand presses down on the table next to him. In contrast to this seemingly relaxed pose, the man's expression appears determined - his eyes are wide open and his mouth set. He is dressed as if for a formal evening function with black trousers, a three-quarter-length black coat and a very large, black cravat, which is set above a dinner shirt and golden-coloured waistcoat. On the table near his hand is an unrolled chart and some books, which are said to include a copy of Sturt's own published account of his explorations entitled 'Two expeditions into the interior of South Australia' (1833).

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a painting by the artist John Crossland, who was one of a number of talented artists attracted to South Australia in the mid-19th century; for a short period of time from the late 1840s to the early 1850s, and before the impact of the gold rush in Victoria, South Australia had the liveliest art scene in Australia; other artists working in Adelaide at this time included Richard Read junior (1796-1862), Alexander Gilfillan (1793-1864), and Alexander Schramm (1814-64)
  • is one of a number of significant portrait paintings made by Crossland while he was in South Australia - Crossland trained at the Royal Academy in London and arrived in Adelaide in 1851; critical opinion regards Crossland as one of the most accomplished portrait painters in Australia within the middle- and late-colonial periods and the most important portrait painter in colonial South Australia; two highly regarded portraits by Crossland portray Indigenous South Australians, 'Nannultera, a young cricketer of the Natives’ Training Institution, Poonindie' (1854) and 'Samuel Conwillan, a catechist of the Natives’ Training Institution, Poonindie' (1854)
  • is a life-size portrait - Crossland was the first artist in Adelaide to produce oil paintings on a large and imposing scale; these large works were well suited for hanging in the larger private residences and fine public buildings being built in Adelaide in the 1850s and 1860s; the very few portraits made prior to Crossland arriving in Adelaide were largely miniature paintings made by Martha Berkeley (1813-99), S T Gill (1818-80) and Richard Read junior
  • demonstrates the artist's portrait-painting skills - Crossland has used the visual device of a dark background to give full prominence to the face and figure; considerable tonal modelling skills are also evident in the highlights and shadows within the face and in the treatment of the light falling on the shirt and waistcoat; the relaxed pose of the figure is a reflection of Crossland's training in the late-Georgian (18th-century-British) style, which borrowed ideas and visual motifs from classical Greek art; Sturt's pose (hand on hip and weight thrown slightly onto one leg) has its origins in classical Greek sculpture
  • depicts a nationally celebrated colonial explorer, Captain Charles Sturt - Sturt was a military man who was dispatched from England to Australia in 1827 as part of his service; his reputation as an explorer was established in 1827-28 when he managed to trace the source and flow of the Macquarie and Darling rivers; the following year he explored the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers and in 1838 he drove stock overland from Sydney to settle in Adelaide; in 1844-46 he undertook an expedition northwards from Adelaide in the hope of reaching the centre of the continent and finding an inland sea; this 18-month journey became a desperate process of survival as severe drought stranded the party for six months at Depot Glen (a location in the north-west corner of New South Wales)
  • is a commemorative portrait - Crossland was commissioned by a group of colonists to produce 'a portrait of this gallant officer'; Sturt returned home to England very soon after it was completed; an interesting footnote is that Sturt was deeply interested in art and was involved in organising South Australia's first art exhibition; his own sketches, made as part of his 1844-46 expeditions were later developed into watercolours by S T Gill; the name ‘Sturt’ has been used commemoratively for a number of purposes including Sturt's Stony Desert, Sturt's Desert Pea (‘Swainsona formosa’), Sturt Highway, Sturt National Park, City of Sturt (an Adelaide local council district) and Sturt Football Club.