National Gallery of Australia seeks to acquire paintings by George Stubbs

The National Gallery of Australia seeks to acquire two paintings by George Stubbs for the Australian national art collection.

A portrait of the Kongouro (Kangaroo) from New Holland and a companion painting, A portrait of a large Dog from New Holland (Dingo) were painted by Stubbs in 1772 in response to a commission by naturalist Sir Joseph Banks. The small works have remained in a private collection since then.

George Stubbs, A portrait of a large Dog from New Holland (Dingo), 1772.

George Stubbs, A portrait of a large Dog from New Holland (Dingo), 1772.

Banks, who recommended to the British Government that Australia should be colonised, returned to the UK from his 1768-71 voyage with Captain Cook on the Endeavour with the skin of a large kangaroo, and presumably one of a dingo. He commissioned the established animal artist George Stubbs, better known for his depictions of horses, to paint the ‘portraits’ of these Australian animals, which Stubbs did using the kangaroo skin and a number of skeletons, as well as rough sketches and verbal descriptions.

The paintings were first exhibited in the Royal Academy, London in 1773 and were published as engravings as a symbol of Australia in the account of Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific. The paintings were some of the first significant images seen in Europe of the Australian continent.

The subjects of the two paintings are integral to Australian art history. Stubbs’s image of the kangaroo, in particular, became the archetypical image of the kangaroo for over fifty years. It is the source of countless popular engravings and quickly came to symbolise the Australian continent. The kangaroo on the Australian coat of arms was based on this image’, said Dr Ron Radford AM, Director, National Gallery of Australia.

‘These paintings should be in Australia, in the national art collection which is the largest and most balanced collection of Australian art. They should belong to the people of Australia’, he said.

Presently, both paintings are in the UK under a temporary export ban imposed by the British Government. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art (RCEWA) believes these works should remain in the UK and has imposed a temporary export ban to allow time for a UK public institution to raise the estimated GBP £ 5.5 million needed to acquire them.

The National Gallery of Australia will persist in its efforts to acquire these paintings that are historically significant to Australia. These icons of Australian historical and cultural heritage are inextricably linked to our national identity, and if acquired will be on permanent display at the National Gallery of Australia. If a UK buyer does not come forward the Gallery will raise funds for the acquisition.

The fundraising efforts to secure these paintings will form part of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation’s current 100 works for 100 years campaign which aims to secure 100 significant works of art for the national art collection to commemorate the Centenary of Canberra.