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image icon 'Still life with game'

'Still life with game'
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an oil painting on canvas (68.5 cm x 58.5 cm) created by W B Gould (1803-1853). It is a still-life painting with a difference, as the subject is dead game: creatures both native and introduced have been arranged rather like hunting trophies for sporting gentlemen to admire at the end of a day's shoot. The selection consists of introduced species of hare, pheasant and pigeon, and a group of dead native birds consisting of a musk lorikeet, Bassian thrush and scarlet robin. This is a decorative arrangement of the kill, with only the gun barrel on the left-hand side of the composition and a small pool of blood seeping from the upended hare providing hints of violent death.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an example of still-life game painting, which usually featured dead game displayed as hunting trophies - this genre (art form) was widely popular in England in the early 19th century, reflecting the popular taste for the subjects of 'hunt'n', fish'n' and shoot'n''
  • belongs to a strong still-life painting tradition in European art that can be traced back to the Dutch masters of the 17th century - artists including Willem Heda (1594-1670), Jan Davidz de Heem (c1600-1683) and Pieter Claesz (1597-1660) excelled in highly realistic depictions of households and natural items; these depictions were usually celebrations of life's riches, but were sometimes coloured with moral lessons about the downside of vanity and pride and the brevity of life; Gould's subjects and compositional arrangements are almost identical to that of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish still lifes
  • was painted by William Gould, a well-known Australian colonial convict artist - Gould had worked in Britain as a porcelain decorator and was transported to Tasmania for seven years in 1827; listed in convict records as a painter and drawing master, he made a precarious living painting portraits and still lifes
  • demonstrates Gould's natural talent for arranging items in a decorative way, and introduces the artist's unique and somewhat naive style of expression - he has been described as 'the folk artist of Tasmania'
  • is an expression of popular taste of the period - still lifes of this kind were considered desirable for the decoration of middle-class dining rooms; still lifes of dead game were particularly suitable for games rooms, inns (pubs), or gentlemen's studies
  • is a good example of how still-life artists use design to make a collection of different items easy to 'read' - Gould has placed the largest creature (the hare) in the centre to 'anchor' the composition and has used touches of red (the colouring around the pheasant's eye, and the plumage of the lorikeet and the robin) to create visual interest
  • suggests colonial attitudes towards sport and the Australian environment - the study portrays introduced species, as well as providing evidence of the indiscriminate hunting of both native and introduced creatures.