Thursday, June 18, 2015

Augustus Earle

Capoeira (Negros combatendo)
c. 1820
watercolor on paper
16.5x25.1 cm
other detail unknown

Augustus Earle (c. 1793-c. 1838) was a London-born travel artist who played an active role internationaly including Brazil. He was a professional artist who painted highly competent portraits, landscapes, and genre scenes of colonial and shipboard life. Unlike earlier artists who worked outside Europe and were employed on voyages of exploration or worked abroad for wealthy, often aristocratic patrons, he was able to operate quite independently - able to combine his lust for travel with an ability to earn a living through art.  The unique body of work he produced during his travels comprises one of the most significant documentary records of the effects of European contact and colonisation during the early nineteenth century. His book, criticized by Darwin as too critical of the New Zealand missionaries, is colourful and well written.

He received his artistic training in the Royal Academy and was already exhibiting there at the age of 13. He exhibited classical, genre and historical paintings in six Royal Academy exhibitions between 1806 and 1814. In 1815, he was given permission to pass through the Mediterranean aboard a ship which was part of Admiral Exmouth's Royal Navy fleet. He thus visited Sicily, Malta, Gibraltar and North Africa, before returning to England in 1817. In March 1818, he left England, bound for the United States of America on the first stage of a journey that would end up taking him around-the-world to South America, Tristan da Cunha, New South Wales, New Zealand, the Pacific, Asia, India, Mauritius and St Helena before returning home in late 1829. The first leg of his 1818 voyage took him to New York and Philadelphia. Continuing his voyage in 1820, he sailed for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, visiting Chile and Peru. During the subsequent three years spent in Rio de Janeiro, he produced a large number of sketches and watercolours. A number of the works produced dealt with the subject of slavery. Other works included landscapes and a series of portraits.

In 1824, he left Rio de Janeiro for the Cape of Good Hope, and onwards to Calcutta. He soon established a reputation as the colony's first & foremost artist of significance. Upon setting up a small business, Earle received a number of requests for portraits. These commissions came from a number of Sydney's establishment figures & leading families. Throughout this time, Earle also continued to produce a number of water colours which mainly fall into three categories : landscapes, Aboriginal subjects, and a series of views of public and private buildings that record the development of the colony.

He also made several excursions to outlying areas of the colony, travelling north and south of Sydney. In 1827, he left Sydney to visit New Zealand. He then spent back in Sydney before departing in 1828, on board the ship bound for India via the Caroline Islands, Guam, one of the Ladrones, Manila, Singapore and Pulo-Penang, before disembarking at Madras in India. He returned to England in 1830. In 1832 he embarked with Charles Darwin as topographical artist and draughtsman aboard the Beagle, but problems with his health forced him to leave the ship at Montevideo and return to England. His place on Darwins' ship was taken over by Conrad Martens. He died in London in 1838.