BIRD WOMAN

El­iz­a­beth Gould Cu­rated by Ruth Mol­li­son All­port Li­brary and Mu­seum of Fine Arts 91 Mur­ray St, Ho­bart Un­til Jan­uary 27

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Visual Arts -

There are a lot of ways to en­gage with this ex­hi­bi­tion of coloured lith­o­graphs by El­iz­a­beth Gould. All of the images are al­lur­ingly beau­ti­ful – the way they are con­structed has a gen­uine qual­ity – and ev­ery line is del­i­cate and pre­cise, ev­ery colour mixed and tem­pered. There can be no doubt of the artist’s skill.

The wife of fa­mous 19th cen­tury English or­nithol­o­gist, taxi­der­mist and bird artist, John Gould, be­gan her ca­reer as a bird il­lus­tra­tor work­ing with stuffed ex­am­ples, but by the time she reached Tas­ma­nia in 1838, she was able to sketch in the wild. The works on dis­play were con­ceived as sci­en­tific di­a­grams, which faith­fully record Tas­ma­nia’s birdlife, as well as art­works.

Her images are of their era, but they also tell Gould’s story. She worked as an artist when it was in­el­e­gant for women of her so­cial stature to work. When we see her art, we also see a woman as­sert­ing her­self as a cre­ative in­di­vid­ual. Her name was largely left out of the ac­tual records – out of 600 images, only 84 are at­trib­uted to her, but it’s clear it was far more than this.

This ex­hi­bi­tion’s achieve­ment is to re­veal Gould as an artist and a key con­trib­u­tor to sci­en­tific knowl­edge. She knew Charles Dar­win and was friends with Lady Jane Franklin while she and her hus­band were in Tas­ma­nia.

Although they didn’t stay long, the Goulds are part of the state’s his­tory. El­iz­a­beth ac­com­plished a tremen­dous amount in her short life - she died soon af­ter re­turn­ing to Eng­land from Tas­ma­nia, in 1841, aged 37. When you see th­ese images, you’ll see the touch of her hand across the gulf of time, and there’s some­thing breath­tak­ing in that.

All­port cu­ra­tor Ruth Mol­li­son has cre­ated a sense of Gould as a per­son in this ex­hi­bi­tion. While the point is sub­tle, it is pow­er­ful: this show, in all its com­plex­ity and beauty, is a fem­i­nist state­ment and as such de­serves much at­ten­tion.

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