After accompanying Charles Darwin as topographical artist on The Beagle in 1833-34, Conrad Martens settled in Sydney in 1835 and soon established himself as one of the most sought-after artists in the colony, fulfilling many commissions for watercolours of the landscape and harbour.
This is one of four versions of this particular subject. Another, dated 1854, is in the State Library of NSW (formerly in the collection of Sir William Dixson) together with a pencil study of North Head dated 6 March 1849. The Art Gallery of NSW version was painted for H Tobias.
Martens gives detailed colour notes for the work in his account book dated November 1853, now in the State Library:
‘Second large drawing of the “Heads” – done on light grey paper – sky, lamp-black and[in?] Red. L. Black and blue, and a light wash of Bt. Sienna, to warm the tone of the grey paper, where it is required, - Sea, lampblack and Bt. Sienna or low Sienna – rocks - - a wash of B.urd. Sienna – the greys of rocks lampblack, and lake, darker part V. Brown & lake & Bt. Siena & lake. The same picture: In low middle tones without much colour such as cliffs. Then in middle distance make the lightest parts grey with yellow highlights, and the darker ones of a purple brown, balanced by green brown.’
Martens admired the work of 17th-century French artist Claude Lorrain and the most famous British artist of his age, JMW Turner. Under their influence, he has accentuated the drama of the scene - rain clouds forming and a shaft of light falling on the foam of a breaking wave in a heaving sea. It is a boldly realised work with strong diagonals and contrasts of light and dark.
This is one of a number of watercolours by Martens in the collection, one of which - ‘Apsley Falls’ 1874 - was the first Australian work acquired by the Gallery.
watercolour, gouache, gum, scraping out on paper
54.2 x 76.2 cm sheet; 71.5 x 93.2 x 7.0 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. corner, brown watercolour "C. Martens./ 1853".
Purchased with assistance from Overseas Containers Australia Ltd 1986
Not on display
Shown in 6 exhibitions
The artist and the patron: Aspects of colonial art in New South Wales., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Mar 1988–01 May 1988
Harbour hymns, city songs: visions of Sydney from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 13 Jan 1990–11 Mar 1990
Nineteenth century Australian watercolours from the collection (1991), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 13 Apr 1991–07 Jul 1991
Two hundred years of Australian painting : Nature, people and art in the southern continent:
19th century Australian watercolours, drawings & pastels, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 Apr 2005–24 Jul 2005
Exiles and emigrants: Epic journeys to Australia in the Victorian era:
Referenced in 21 publications
Jenny Aland and Max Darby (Editors), Art Connections, 'Art media: materials, techniques, and tools or equipment', pg. 69-80, Port Melbourne, 1998, 71 (colour illus.).
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Sydney, 1986, (illus.). cat.no. 92
Susanna de Vries, Conrad Martens: on the Beagle and in Australia, Brisbane, 1993, 177 (colour illus.). plate no. 14
Elizabeth Ellis, Conrad Martens: life & art, Sydney, 1994, 76.
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Works on Paper', pg. 182-197, Sydney, 1999, 185 (colour illus.).
Sandra Jane, Art is ... making, creating and appreciating 2, Milton, 1999, 216 (colour illus.).
Hendrik Kolenberg., Nineteenth century Australian watercolours from the collection, 'Introduction', Sydney, 1991, (illus.). cat.no. 46, not paginated
Hendrik Kolenberg, 19th century Australian watercolours, drawing and pastels from the Gallery's collection, 'Introduction', pg. 6-16, Sydney, 2005, 6, 32, 33 (colour illus.).
Hendrik Kolenberg., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'The definitive word on Martens still to come', Sydney, 23 Oct 1993, (illus.).
John Lewis, Savage Exile, Sydney, 1996, cover.
Patricia Macdonald, Exiles and emigrants: epic journies to Australia in the Victorian era, Melbourne, 2005, 94 (colour illus.), 138.
Mary Mackay., Art and Australia (Vol. 31, No. 3), 'All that mass of rock, the geological sublime', Sydney, Autumn 1994, 344 (colour illus.).
Ewen McDonald, The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 8, 9 (colour illus.).
Barry Pearce, The artist and the patron - aspects of Colonial art in New South Wales, Sydney, 1988, 75, 76 (colour illus.). cat.no. 54
Richard Neville, In the wake of the Beagle: science in the southern oceans from the age of Darwin, 'Art and exploration', pg. 34-53, Sydney, 2009, 72 (colour illus.).
Barry Pearce, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Introduction', pg. 10-16, Sydney, 2000, 10-11, 18, 25 (colour illus.), 301.
Barry Pearce and Haruo Arikawa, Two hundred years of Australian painting: nature, people and art in the southern continent, Tokyo, 1992, 45 (colour illus.). cat.no. 7
Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 16, 17 (illus.).
Andrew Sayers, JMW Turner, 'Turner and the origins of landscape painting in Australia', pg. 202-215, Canberra, 1996, 208 (colour illus.).
Kay Vernon, Harbour hymns, city songs: visions of Sydney from the collection, Sydney, 1990. cat.no. 98
Editor Unknown (Editor), Look, Heidelberg, Mar 1988, front cover (colour illus.).