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image icon 'Portrait of Captain Matthew Flinders, RN, 1774-1814', 1806-07

'Portrait of Captain Matthew Flinders, RN, 1774-1814', 1806-07
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a head and shoulders portrait in oils, measuring 64.5 cm x 50.0 cm, by Toussaint Antoine de Chazal de Chamerel (1771-1822), painted in 1806-07. The subject, Captain Matthew Flinders, is dressed in a full Royal Navy commander's uniform. He is wearing a dark-blue coat with fringed gold epaulettes (shoulder decorations that indicate military rank), gold buttons and braiding over a white shirt and cravat. The sitter's body is turned slightly to the right, but he faces the viewer with a firm, direct gaze. He has a small pointed face set beneath close-cut curling hair, strong eyebrows, dark alert eyes, a long straight nose and a small, tightly shut mouth.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a portrait from life of Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) - Flinders was the first explorer to circumnavigate the Australian continent (1801-03) and hence to prove that the eastern and western sections of the continent were joined; his work gave the map of Australia its present shape and he was also the first to consistently use the name 'Australia'; he embarked from England in July 1801 as captain of the 'Investigator' to explore the largely unknown and uncharted southern coast of Australia; by June 1803, Flinders had charted significant areas of the coastline of southern Australia and the Queensland coast, as far north as the Gulf of Carpentaria, with great accuracy; Flinders's name is commemorated by Flinders Bay, Flinders Chase, Flinders Ranges, the Flinders Group of five islands in northern Queensland and Flinders University in South Australia
  • references a significant episode in the life of Mathew Flinders - on his return to England in July 1803, Flinders was forced to call into the French port of Ile-de-France (Mauritius) for repairs to his ship; since France and England were officially at war at this time, the Mauritian Governor, General Charles DeCaen, accused Flinders of espionage, treated him as a criminal and imprisoned him on the island for six and a half years; he was 36 years old and in ill health when he was finally released from captivity; back in London he worked (from 1810 to 1814) on his great account of the voyage, titled 'A Voyage to Terra Australis', which was published on 18 July 1814, the day before Flinders died
  • is the only known life-size portrait of Matthew Flinders painted from life - during his stay on Mauritius, Flinders formed a friendship with a wealthy local planter and accomplished artist Toussaint Antoine de Chazal de Chamerel; for most his confinement on Mauritius, Flinders lived with the D'Arifat family who were near neighbours of de Chazal de Chamerel and his wife; on 26 December 1806 Flinders recorded that de Chazal de Chamerel asked if he could 'copy my face, of a natural size'; after five sittings, during which time the artist may have measured Flinders's facial features, the portrait was completed on 10 January 1807
  • is a painting by Toussaint Antoine de Chazal de Chamerel, who is considered to be one of the most intriguing of French colonial artists - born on Mauritius, de Chazal de Chamerel went to France to study; he was imprisoned during the French Revolution (1789-99), but was released because of his talents as a portrait painter
  • conveys hints (the direct gaze and firm set of the mouth) of Flinders's personality as a determined and courageous naval explorer - while Flinders proved to be a fearless naval commander, he was also a man of great sentiment; his letters to his wife, Anne (written while in captivity on Mauritius), are moving expressions of love and grief at their separation; Flinders had other facets to his personality, and during his time on Mauritius he wrote a biographical tribute to 'Trim', a ship's cat who had accompanied him on his voyages around Tasmania and Australia; in this tribute Flinders described 'Trim' as 'one of the finest animals I ever saw.