The National Gallery of Australia Foundation is proud to present a significant and charming painting, Benjamin Duterrau's An infant of Van Diemen's Land 1840, that we hope to acquire for the national art collection through the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund, now in its eleventh year. However, this acquisition will only be possible with your generous support.
Everyone’s life can be enriched through art. Through the national collection, stories can be told, experiences can be shared and the cultural landscape of Australia is enriched in perpetuity. The Masterpieces for the Nation Fund is an annual appeal that gives all Australians the opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the development of the national art collection. In order to tell a full and diverse story of our Nation’s art, the Gallery endeavours to acquire works of art that have originated from every Australian state and territory.
Since 2003, the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund has allowed the Gallery to acquire numerous major works of art, such as Florence Fuller’s serene Western Australian landscape A golden hour c1905, William Robinson’s torrid Queensland rainforest scene Twin Falls and Gorge 2000 and Nora Heyson’s beautiful Self Portrait 1932 from South Australia. This year, we look to our most Southern state, Tasmania, with Benjamin Duterrau’s memorable portrait.
An infant of Van Diemen's Land 1840 shows a robust Australian child with sweet, rosy cheeks sitting firmly on the ground playing with a cup and ball toy in a Tasmanian setting. She is dressed in white muslin, a late Regency-style dress with a bonnet, apt clothing for the Australian summer. She smiles, has alert blue eyes, and seems to be happily posing for this painting, which has little of the conventional sentimentality of many child images. The infant is depicted looking intently at a little bird (possibly a juvenile Flame Robin or a Tasmanian Thornbill) on the branch of a tree, an endearing companion to the little girl. Nearby there is a cool expanse of water. Beside her, springing from the ground, are self-conscious depictions of distinctly local Tasmanian plants—a white flag iris (the upper flower), Australian bluebells (below), spiny-headed mat rush or sedge and a white paper daisy. Above her, there are the leaves and yellow flowers of what is probably a wattle tree. In this way the artist made sure that his subject was recognisably ‘an infant of Van Diemen’s Land’. Certainly, the painting suggests Tasmania to be a safe and bountiful natural playground and her inhabitants to be healthy and free to play—in bare feet, as they might not have done back in cold, more restrictive England.
Donations above $2 are tax deductible. Contributions will be acknowledged in Artonview magazine and the National Gallery of Australia Foundation Annual Report. Please help us to continue to develop the national art collection for the enjoyment of all Australians by making a contribution in support of Benjamin Duterrau’s engaging An infant of Van Diemen’s Land,1840.