Image Portrait of an Indigenous Australian man, c1790

TLF ID R4033

This is a portrait of an Indigenous Australian man from the Port Jackson (Sydney) area of New South Wales, created in about 1790 by an unknown artist. The man is shown from the waist up, standing with his back to the viewer and his head turned to the right-hand side. The man's facial features are exaggerated and his back and arm feature raised scars. Measuring 29.4 cm x 24.0 cm, the portrait was painted in gouache (watercolours mixed with gum).

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset portrays a man with cicatrices (raised scars) - scars were mainly created during ceremonies, to mark initiation or the attainment of a particular age, or to raise a person's status; techniques used to produce these prominent marks varied, but commonly involved cutting the skin with a sharp shell or rock and rubbing ash or other substances into the cuts; the raised, pigmented patterns that resulted could be found on the chest, back, arms or legs.
  • It depicts a decorative armband - across Australia, such body ornaments were commonly made from shells, animal teeth, bones, bird feathers, animal fur and sinew.
  • It demonstrates the difficulty many European artists had in accurately recording the physical features of Indigenous Australians - it is likely that most of the convict artists were untrained, but even those with training had learnt to depict the human figure using classical marble statues as models; the British public revelled in stories of savagery in the faraway colonies, so convict artists sometimes intentionally exaggerated the facial features of their subjects in order to emphasise cultural and physical differences.
  • It is an example of gouache, a heavy, opaque watercolour paint that forms a reflective layer on the surface to produce rich, vividly coloured paintings - the term 'gouache' applies to both the paint itself and its method of application (it is used more thickly than traditional watercolours); rather than relying on the white of the paper to create highlights, as is done in the case of traditional watercolours, the gouache technique involves creating light tints by mixing white and colour.
  • It was painted by an unknown artist referred to as the 'Port Jackson Painter', who was one of the three main artists on the First Fleet - the other artists were George Raper, midshipman on the HMS 'Sirius', and Thomas Watling, a convict; the work of these three artists provides valuable information about the traditional way of life of Indigenous people in the Port Jackson (Sydney) area, changes resulting from British settlement, and some of the social exchanges between the two groups.

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Port Jackson Painter
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
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  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Port Jackson Painter
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements