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