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Australian art

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The prospector



Julian Ashton

England, Australia

27 Jan 1851 - 27 Apr 1942


This heroic representation of an Australian 'type' is more a character study than a portrait, recalling the artist's work as a newspaper illustrator. Posed and painted in the studio, the work is formally arranged with the basic implements of the gold digger's trade carefully displayed. It presents an image of the prospector as a genuine Australian fellow, stained by his labours and tanned by the sun. Though somewhat constructed and theatrical, the painting retains a sense of human vitality.

Julian Ashton instructed several generations of important painters through his Sydney Art School. He became a trustee of the Gallery in 1888, championing the purchase of Australian art.




Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas on hardboard


213.4 x 116.9 cm board; 266.5 x 170 x 14 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l. corner, brown oil "J.R. ASHTON. 1889".


Purchased 1889

Accession number


Artist information

Julian Ashton

Works in the collection


Shown in 8 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 39 publications


Brian Ahearn (Editor), The Australasian coin & banknote collectables magazine, Canowindra, May 2001, front cover (colour illus.). Special issue on gold and gold discoveries in Australia.

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 77 (colour illus.).

Hubert Howe Bancroft, The book of the fair; an historical and descriptive presentation of the world's science, art, and industry, as viewed through the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893, Chicago, 1893, 729.

Deborah Clark, Gold and civilisation, 'Art of the goldfields', pg. 62-77, Canberra, 2001, 62 (colour illus., detail), 63, 73 (colour illus.).

Edward Combes, Sydney Morning Herald, 'The Art Society's Exhibition', pg. 5, Sydney, 30 Dec 1876, 5.

Jonathan Cooper (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales Bulletin, 'Close-Ups of the Collection', pg. 34, Sydney, Aug 1996-Oct 1996, 34 (colour illus.).

Dinah Dysart, Julian Ashton 1851-1942, 'Introduction', pg. 3-6, Sydney, 1982, 4, 11 (illus.), 14,. 11, 30

Dinah Dysart, Julian Ashton: essay on the artist (Volume I), Canberra, 1981, 42, 45 (illus.).

Dinah Dysart, Julian Ashton (Volume II), Canberra, 1981. Illustrations of sketches of the model used in 'The prospector'.

Michael Evans, Gold Fever! Life on the diggings 1851-1855, Canberra, 1994. Listed in catalogue under the heading "The true picture?". No cat. number.

Susannah Fullerton, Look, 'Brief encounters: Literary travellers in Australia, 1836-1939', pg. 29, Sydney, Apr 2009, 29 (colour illus.).

Geoff K. Gray Pty. Ltd., Australian and European paintings, Monday 9th March, 1981, 6:30 p.m., Rosebery, 1981, 21, 22 (illus.). lot no. 204, 'Working the sluice', 1884

James Gleeson, Impressionist painters 1881-1930, St Kilda, 1971, 23 (colour illus.), 83.

Grafton Galleries, Exhibition of Australian art in London, London, 1898, 20. 91; titled 'The Prospector'; Lent by the Trustees of Sydney Gallery

Colin Haynes (Director), Centenary of Federation: South Australia. South Australia, Federation and the twentieth century (Episode one: Utopia and the great Southern Land), Australia, 17 Oct 2001, 0:18.37-0:18.40 (colour illus., detail). 'Utopia and the Great Southern Land' was broadcoast on ABC television 17 October 2001.

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Painting and Sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 112 (colour illus.).

Elsie D May, Our guardian angels, Sussex, 2001, 41 (illus.).

Patrick H McCarthy, Bailed up: the story behind the painting, Sydney, 2006, 14-15, 16 (colour illus.).

Alan McCulloch, Artists of the Australian gold rush, Melbourne, 1977, back cover (colour illus., detail).

Alan McCulloch, The golden age of Australian painting - Impressionism and the Heidelberg school, Melbourne, 1969, 114 (colour illus.). plate no. 56

Tim McLachlan, The national times: Australia's national weekly of business and affairs., 'Julian Ashton in modern perspective', pg. 48, Sydney, 08 Nov 1981-14 Nov 1981, 48.

Australian artists: Some have real artistic merit and the collection is credible', Chicago Daily Tribune, 'Pictures, pg. 9, Chicago, 08 Jun 1893, 9.

Hal Missingham, A retrospective exhibition of Australian painting, Sydney, 1953. Section 3: 42; titled 'The Prospector'

National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Catalogue of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1891, Sydney, 1891, 66.

National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Catalogue of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1893, Sydney, 1893, 107. 364, Loan collection to the Commissioners of the Chicago Exposition

Barry Pearce and Haruo Arikawa, Two hundred years of Australian painting: nature, people and art in the southern continent, Tokyo, 1992, 97 (colour illus.). 52

Royal Art Society of New South Wales, Art Society of New South Wales Spring Exhibition Catalogue (1889), Sydney, 1889, 20, 21 (b&w line illus.). 53; priced 150 guineas

Bernard William Smith, A catalogue of Australian oil paintings in the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1875-1952, Sydney, 1953, 18. 20

Terry Smith, Australian art and architecture: essays presented to Bernard Smith, 'The divided meaning of "Shearing the Rams": artists and nationalism, 1888-1891', pg. 99-123, Melbourne, 1980, 107, 122.

William Splatt and Barbara Burton, 100 masterpieces of Australian painting, Adelaide, 1973, 54, 55 (colour illus.). plate no. 24

Graeme Sturgeon, Australia - the painter's vision, Kensington, 1987, 110 (colour illus.), 111, 202. plate no. 66

Daniel Thomas, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Tom Roberts', pg. 466-487, Sydney, Jul 1969, 472.

Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales: Minutes 31.8.1880-4.8.1891, Sydney, 1880-1891, 8 October 1889.

Vaurien, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'The Art Gallery', pg. 5, Sydney, 13 Dec 1890, 5.

Vivienne Webb, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Golden age', pg. 37-38, Sydney, 2000, 43 (colour illus.), 300.

Natalie Wilson, Selling a nation: Australian artists at International Exhibitions [M.A., University of Sydney], 'Organisation of the New South Wales display in Chicago', pg.18-45, Sydney, 2001, between 28-29 (colour illus.), 29-31, 52. figure no. 14

World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893: Catalogue of the exhibits in the New South Wales Courts, Sydney, 1893.

Editor Unknown (Editor), Great Australian landscape paintings, Melbourne, 1973, (colour illus.). plate no. 16

Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, 'The Art Society's Exhibition', pg. 4, Sydney, 13 Dec 1890, 4.