Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

Hawkes­bury Nightscape (2010). Hawkes­bury City Coun­cil Art Col­lec­tion. Gift of the artist, 2011. On dis­play, Hawkes­bury Re­gional Gallery, Wind­sor, NSW.

EVER since the mid-19th cen­tury, mys­tery has sur­rounded a miss­ing por­trait of Lach­lan Mac­quarie, gover­nor of NSW from 1810 to 1821. Com­mis­sioned by the res­i­dents of the area around the Hawkes­bury River in ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the gover­nor, there is spec­u­la­tion that the por­trait went miss­ing af­ter it was stowed on a ship bound for Aus­tralia from Lon­don.

On Oc­to­ber 10, 1823, Mac­quarie wrote to his friend Richard Fitzger­ald, who lived in Wind­sor, NSW: ‘‘ I have had my por­trait painted lately, and af­ter be­ing hand­somely framed and care­fully packed up first in tin and af­ter­wards in a strong wooden case, it has been shipped off a few days ago for New South Wales ... I hope it will come safe to hand, as it is an ex­cel­lent like­ness. Be so good as to write to me when it ar­rives.’’

The por­trait was ad­dressed to Fitzger­ald and to the chief mag­is­trate of the Hawkes­bury dis­trict, Wil­liam Cox, but once it had been dis­patched from Lon­don, it seems there was no fur­ther trace of the paint­ing.

‘‘ At the time of writ­ing, Mac­quarie did not know the name of the ship and there is no record of the por­trait ar­riv­ing in the colony or any fur­ther con­tem­po­rary ref­er­ence to it,’’ ac­cord­ing to War­wick Hirst, cu­ra­tor of a NSW State Li­brary ex­hi­bi­tion about Mac­quarie’s gov­er­nor­ship.

But there’s a twist to the story: some in­sist that the por­trait made it to Aus­tralia and that it is the one hang­ing dis­trict court­house.

‘‘ De­spite the lack of firm ev­i­dence, a re­silient lo­cal tra­di­tion, dat­ing back at least to the mid-1800s, as­serts that this miss­ing por­trait is in fact the one in the Wind­sor Court­house,’’ Hirst says, adding that the claim re­mains un­sub­stan­ti­ated.’’

Whether or not it is Mac­quarie, the por­trait re­mains a pop­u­lar drawcard at the Wind­sor Court­house and it was the in­spi­ra­tion for an ex­hi­bi­tion, In­ter­pret­ing Por­traits: Mac­quarie 1810-2010, which ex­am­ined Mac­quarie’s im­por­tance to the colony.

One paint­ing that was com­mis­sioned for that ex­hi­bi­tion and which now forms part of the Hawkes­bury Re­gional Gallery col­lec­tion is Guy Maestri’s six-pan­elled Hawkes­bury Nightscape.

Maestri, who was born in Mudgee, NSW, in 1974 was re­ferred to the court­house por­trait as a start­ing point. Al­though best known for works based on his ob­ser­va­tions of en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, he says that once a year he does a por­trait, and in 2009 he won the Archibald Prize for his de­pic­tion of in­dige­nous mu­si­cian Ge­of­frey Gur­ru­mul Yunupingu.

In Hawkes­bury nightscape, Maestri fea­tures evoca­tive, rather ghostly, minia­ture por­traits of Mac­quarie and his wife, El­iz­a­beth. They are set against a land­scape of moun­tains, clouds, and the dark fore­bod­ing of the Hawkes­bury River as night falls.


the Hawkes­bury

Ac­cord­ing to the ex­hi­bi­tion’s cu­ra­tor, Kath­leen von Witt, Maestri’s paint­ing is com­ment­ing about Mac­quarie’s re­liance on the Hawkes­bury River, with its rich al­lu­vial soil, and the dif­fi­culty of man­ag­ing a fledg­ing colony in a ‘‘ new’’ con­ti­nent.

‘‘ Maestri’s work also has yet an­other layer of sen­si­tiv­ity as he makes a comment about Mac­quarie’s fam­ily life,’’ she says. ‘‘ Each of the six panels can be seen to rep­re­sent one of the six mis­car­riages that El­iz­a­beth en­dured be­fore suc­cess­fully giv­ing birth to Lach­lan Jr, thus fur­ther il­lus­trat­ing the con­nec­tion Mac­quarie had to the Hawkes­bury.’’

When I visit the gallery at Wind­sor, I’m shown Hawkes­bury Nightscape by cu­ra­tor Tia McIn­tyre, who says the pic­ture rep­re­sents an an­cient river carv­ing its way to the sea and a for­mi­da­ble cou­ple shap­ing the des­tiny of a na­tion. ‘‘ Maestri’s mas­ter­ful use of tone for­ever en­tombs the cou­ple in the cen­tre of this vast paint­ing and in turn sug­gests that the Mac­quar­ies have be­come a part of the moun­tains for­ever, eter­nally a part of the land­scape they had such an in­flu­ence over. Their legacy shaped the land­scape and so­cial his­tory of Aus­tralia, giv­ing this paint­ing national sig­nif­i­cance.’’

Oil on linen. Six panels, 107cm x

92cm each

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