Heroes and villains: Strutt's Australia

Plan your visit

Study of first bushranger for Bushrangers, Victoria, Australia, 1852, 1886. Pencil and wash, Rex Nan Kivell Collection (Pictures), National Library of Australia

Hours: daily, 10am–5pm; open until 9pm on Thursdays

Dates:
Thursday, 14 July 2016Sunday, 23 October 2016
Cost:
Free
Venue:
Keith Murdoch Gallery

Our winter 2016 exhibition

The 1850s was Melbourne's golden age, when Victoria became a separate colony, gold was discovered, bushrangers roamed and explorers launched bold expeditions into the Australian interior.

These dramatic transformations were captured in stunning paintings, sketches and drawings by William Strutt (1825–1915), whose work encompassed the brutal fury of the Australian landscape and the human drama of life in the mid-19th century.

This free exhibition brought together significant works from the extensive collections of State Library Victoria, the National Library of Australia and other major Australian collections.

Heroes and villains: Strutt's Australia was presented in partnership with the National Library of Australia.

Image gallery

Painting of people fleeing a large bushfire

William Strutt, Black Thursday, February 6th, 1851 (detail), 1864, oil on canvas, State Library Victoria

View a selection of artworks from the exhibition in our image gallery, including sketches, studies and oil paintings.

Related events

A word from the curator

Hear from curator Matthew Jones as he introduces the themes explored in our exhibition, the first retrospective of Strutt's work to be held in Melbourne.

Guided tours

Portrait of Lady Macarthur, c. 1862. Pencil, crayon and wash, Rex Nan Kivell Collection (Pictures), National Library of Australia

No booking is required for our 45-minute guided tours held at 12.30pm every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Pop-up talks

Study for Black Thursday, February 6th, 1851, c. 1862. Pencil and wash, Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia

To learn more about the stories behind Strutt's artworks, attend a pop-up talk:

Curator tours

Detail of Black Thursday showing people running away from the bushfire

William Strutt, Black Thursday, February 6th, 1851 (detail),1864, oil on canvas, State Library Victoria

Book in for a guided curator tour of the exhibition with guest curator Matthew Jones from the National Library of Australia.

Exhibition brochure

Gold diggings of Victoria, preparing to start (from The Gold diggers portfolio), c. 1851. Hand-coloured engraving, Pictures Collection, National Library of Australia

For more insights into Strutt's life and work, download a copy of the room brochure.

Strutt's sketching studio

Self-portrait at Atelier Drolling, Paris, c. 1840. Pencil and wash, Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia

Drop in anytime to our all-day sketching studio and immerse yourself in a day of drawing.

  • Friday 23 September, 11am–6pm
  • Saturday 24 September, 11am–6pm

Audio-described tours

Detail of The burial of Burke

The burial of Burke (detail), William Strutt, 1911, oil on canvas, State Library of Victoria

Our audio-described tours bring the artistry of William Strutt to life, describing the exhibited works in terms of their story, colours, artistic medium and the people, places and objects they depict.

Call us on 03 8664 7099 or email inquiries@slv.vic.gov.au to book one of the following tours:

  • 25 September, 1.30–3pm
  • 20 October, 10.30am–12pm

Strutt's artistry

William Strutt was a superb draughtsman and renderer of the human figure, whose ability to compose complex dramatic scenes is witnessed in large narrative works such as Black Thursday, February 6th, 1851 and The burial of Burke.

The oil paintings, watercolours, portraits, prints, preparatory sketches and large-scale history paintings featured in the exhibition provide an unparalleled visual record of the hazards and hardships of colonial life, and demonstrate the meticulous approach of an academically trained artist.

'Bushrangers' working sketches

Depicts the finished painting with a circle showing the underlying sketches

William Strutt's large-scale paintings were based on meticulously observed sketches. View our interactive to see the preparatory sketches that laid the foundation for his masterpiece, Bushrangers.

'The burial of Burke' infrared

Depicts the finished painting with a circle showing the underlying x-ray.

Infrared analysis can reveal the fascinating back story to the construction of artworks. Use our infrared tool to view details beneath the layers of paint in Strutt's painting The burial of Burke.

Curator: Matthew Jones

Self-portrait as a New Zealand bushman, Mangorei, Taranaki, New Zealand, 1856, 1856. Pencil and wash, Rex Nan Kivell Collection (Pictures), National Library of Australia

The first retrospective of Strutt's work to be shown in Melbourne, the Heroes and villains: Strutt's Australia exhibition is curated by Matthew Jones, a curator in the Exhibitions Branch at the National Library of Australia, where he has co-curated The Life of Patrick White and displays in the Treasures Gallery, the Library's permanent exhibition space.

Young explorers trail booklet

Painting of bushrangers holding up a group of people

William Strutt, 'Bushrangers, Victoria, Australia, 1852', 1887, oil on canvas, The University of Melbourne Art Collection, gift of the Russell and Mab Grimwade Bequest, 1973

If you're visiting the exhibition with children, download a copy of the Young adventurers trail or pick up a printed copy when you visit the exhibition.

Audio performance: 'Black Thursday'

Listen to a soundscape re-creating the drama and tragedy of Black Thursday, 6 February 1851, bringing to life the people, stories and terrifying atmosphere through voices, music and sound effects.

Exhibition partners

State Library Victoria logo Creative Victoria logo

Presenting partner:

National Library of Australia logo

Supporting partners:

NCITO logo Porter's Paints logo

William Strutt's 'itinerant picture'

Detail of Black Thursday

William Strutt, Black Thursday, February 6th, 1851 (detail),1864, oil on canvas, State Library Victoria

Read a La Trobe Journal article by our Picture Librarian, Madeleine Say, detailing the long quest to find a buyer for Strutt's monumental artwork Black Thursday.

Virginia Dahlenburg on 'Black Thursday'

Watch a video with Senior Conservator of Paintings Virginia Dahlenburg as she discusses the style of art known as the 'Apocalyptic sublime', and hear dramatic excerpts from a letter by William Strutt that describes the terrifying day in 1851 when temperatures soared to a scorching 47.2 degrees Celsius.