The Sydney Bird Painter
'The white gallinule' c. 1791–92
Following his discovery of the eastern coast of Australia in 1770, Captain James Cook returned to England to a scientific community amazed by his expeditions and by the extraordinary birds, plants and animals collected during the Endeavour's voyage.
The first white settlers who followed Cook also documented the curious wildlife of their new home. This skilfully rendered drawing of a White Gallinule was probably painted by the Sydney Bird Painter, the name attributed to possibly three different unknown artists, who may have arrived with the First Fleet in 1788.
'A peculiar bird, the White Gallinule was one of a multitude of fauna first discovered on Lord Howe Island when Lieutenant Ball landed there in the Supply in March 1788. Like the unfortunate Mount Pitt bird of Norfolk Island that the Sydney Bird Painter also depicted, the White Gallinule was flightless and tragically hunted to extinction. The skin of only one White Gallinule has survived white settlement, enhancing the poignancy of this rare contemporary drawing.' (1)
(1) Richard Neville, Sotheby's catalogue, Sale AU645, Willcox Collection, Melbourne, 8 November 2000, Lot 4.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002
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