English artist William Strutt (1825–1915) lived in Melbourne between 1850 and 1862, a time of extraordinary change: Victoria became a separate colony, gold was discovered, immigration soared and a new catalogue of 'heroic' archetypes – bushrangers, explorers, diggers – were established in the Australian consciousness.
Trained in Paris, where history painting was considered the greatest of all genres, Strutt was uniquely qualified to transfer this drama to canvas. His watercolours, portraits, prints, preparatory sketches and large oil paintings provide an unparalleled visual record of life in the colonies.
Strutt's ability to draw the human figure and execute large and complex compositions sets him apart from other artists working in Australia during the 1850s and early 1860s. His distinctive and ambitious paintings are a rare example of the intersection of French academic training with Australian colonial subject matter.
These illustrations featured in our free exhibition, Heroes and villains: Strutt's Australia, displayed at the Library from 14 July to 23 October 2016.