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image icon 'Panorama of Sydney Harbour with Government House and Fort Macquarie from Mrs Macquarie's Chair', c1845

'Panorama of Sydney Harbour with Government House and Fort Macquarie from Mrs Macquarie's Chair', c1845
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an oil painting made around 1845 by Jacob Janssen (1779-1856). Measuring 62.8 cm x 91.0 cm, the work presents a 19th-century view of a section of Sydney Harbour. Several groups of fashionably dressed people can be seen among the shrubby trees in the foreground: on the left, a young couple with a white dog stroll down a pathway, while in the centre a group of four men are shown variously seated or standing. On the right are two well-dressed men apparently engaged in conversation, while another, with arms folded, seems to be admiring the view. The immediate and distant harbour is crowded with a variety of vessels, from dinghies to three-masted sailing ships. Across the harbour stand two significant buildings: a large two-storey building with a tower (on the left) and a fort with slit windows and gun emplacements near the edge of the water (centre right).

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work by Jacob Janssen - for much of his life, Janssen was a travelling artist, spending time in Brazil, USA, India, Singapore and Manila; he arrived in Sydney in 1840 towards the end of his career and established a local reputation with his stylish scenes of Sydney Harbour
  • references a significant historical site - the view is from a popular harbourside beauty spot known today as Mrs Macquarie's Chair; the 'chair' was actually a bench carved out of sandstone by convicts in 1810 for Governor Lachlan Macquarie's wife, Elizabeth; Elizabeth Macquarie was known to visit the area and sit on the bench to enjoy the panoramic views of Sydney Harbour; the site is on a small peninsula that is part of The Domain, Sydney and is bounded on one side by Farm Cove and on the other by Woolloomooloo Bay
  • references historical buildings - the view is across to Farm Cove; to the left is the newly finished gothic-style Government House and to the right is Fort Macquarie, which was situated on Bennelong Point where the Sydney Opera House now stands
  • is a good example of a kind of topographical art that was common in mid-colonial Australia - from making illustrations of penal settlements, farms and private houses in the early 1800s to recording the growth of towns and cities in the mid-19th century, artists continued to be in demand, documenting these subjects as tangible symbols of civic pride and progress
  • portrays Sydney as a cultured and flourishing settlement - convict transportation to New South Wales had ceased in 1840 and this painting avoids any reference to convicts
  • shows how a trained artist like Janssen was skilled in amalgamating topographical and picturesque elements - the detailed depictions of people, buildings and ships are set within a carefully constructed natural setting that appears more European than Australian in its dark greens and neat clumping of trees and bushes; the foreground trees and bushes have been used to create a stage-like setting for the action that is taking place there and to frame the distant views
  • references mid-19th-century marine transport and technology - a variety of craft can be seen on Sydney Harbour, ranging from a dinghy and yachts under sail or at anchor to three-masted sailing ships (which had newly arrived from France and Britain); there is also a steam tug giving off clouds of black smoke
  • provides a snapshot of society and leisure in Sydney in the mid-19th century - the style of clothing worn by the people in the foreground suggests that it is most likely a Sunday or public holiday; the young woman on the left wears a dress supported by numerous petticoats and a slightly dropped waist, and a fashionable large bonnet tied under her chin; her companion, who is possibly a squatter, wears a cabbage-tree hat (woven from the leaves of the native cabbage-tree palm); the men's clothes reflect different classes of people, from cloth-capped artisans to black-coated prosperous gentlemen.