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image icon 'A scene in South Australia'

'A scene in South Australia'
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is an oil painting, measuring 25.7 cm x 31.8 cm, by the colonial South Australian artist Alexander Schramm (1814-1864). It shows a friendly encounter between a group of colonial settlers and Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal people have just arrived at a house that looks well-constructed and homely with its white walls, thatched roof and bird in a cage near the front door. The mood is relaxed and the grouping informal; there appears to be an easy-going exchange between the individuals who have gathered around a washing tub and the door. In the doorway at the centre of the work, a man holding a baby stands next to an Aboriginal man who also has a baby tucked into the possum skin cloak that is tied around his shoulders. The only anti-social note is provided by the resident cat and dog hissing and barking at the visitors and their dogs.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an outstanding example of a distinctive body of Australian art that was usually made by settler or explorer artists and that took as its subject the depiction of Aboriginal people - this style of art is not always accurate in its documentation of traditional life and material culture but invariably reveals the perceptions and values that colonial Europeans held in relation to Aboriginal people and their culture
  • is considered to be a masterpiece of colonial painting, demonstrating Schramm's skill in rendering social detail and capturing the quality of the local light
  • is a painting by one of the most significant artists to work in colonial South Australia - German-born Alexander Schramm came to South Australia in 1849 as a trained artist (Berlin and Rome); he was one of the many thousands of Germans who migrated to South Australia around this time; he is best known for his paintings of Aboriginal encampments on the Adelaide Plains that depicted Aboriginal people with great sympathy at a time when their traditional life was being disrupted by the colonists; he also made a number of watercolours and lithographs of Aboriginal subjects
  • offers a detailed insight into the predicament of Aboriginal people within colonial South Australian society of the period - the differences between the two groups have been staged and emphasised by the artist; the settlers are depicted as prosperous (the pile of timber leaning against one side of the house suggests that extensions may be underway); by contrast, the Aboriginal people are dressed in a ragged mixture of European cast-offs and remnants of traditional clothing, and appear undernourished; the settlers' dogs look well-fed while those belonging to the Indigenous people look emaciated; since the traditional sources of food had been depleted by Europeans, Aboriginal people turned to begging on the streets
  • references the role of the artist as a reporter in colonial society
  • references a particular site and individual - while the style and construction of the dwelling has suggested that these settlers might be from Germany and the setting in the Barossa Valley, it has also been placed in the north parklands on the outskirts of the newly established city of Adelaide; supporting this claim is the distinctive Aboriginal figure (wearing a white shirt) who is based on a real individual known as King William who begged in the streets for silver coins; the purse on the end of the stick (shown in the painting) was used to hold the money collected.