London-born convict artist and portrait painter, Joseph Backler was transported for life to the colony of New South Wales in 1831 for forgery. In 1842 Backler was granted a ticket-of-leave and the following year advertised in Sydney as a 'Portrait, Miniature and Landscape Painter, in oils and watercolours'. Backler spent the following 50 years establishing himself across NSW and Queensland as a skilled portrait painter.
His clientele were mostly from the middle echelons of colonial society, who commissioned the artist to produce accurate depictions of family members. In 1858 Backler completed two portraits of John Thomas Wills (1824–60) and his wife Elizabeth Wills (neé Porter, 1825–1908)). John came to Sydney in 1832 with his mother Ann, who had been transported on the 'Burrell' for theft. He became a successful tailor and acquired substantial land holdings in Sydney, his status borne out in Backler's portrait which shows a well-attired gentleman seated before a red velvet curtain, a distinctive compositional device often used by the artist.
oil on canvas
76.3 x 62.9 cm stretcher; 93.5 x 80.1 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. corner, red oil "J. Backler./ 1858.".
Gift of Greg Waters in recognition of the Wills Family 2016. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program