Item #5000833 View of Elizabeth Bay, Elizabeth Bay House and Sydney from Darling Point. Conrad MARTENS.
View of Elizabeth Bay, Elizabeth Bay House and Sydney from Darling Point

View of Elizabeth Bay and Sydney…
View of Elizabeth Bay, Elizabeth Bay House and Sydney from Darling Point

Sydney: c 1845.

Original watercolour and pencil with gum arabic on paper, 310 x 500 mm; signed lower right C. Martens; in handsome nineteenth century frame; gold slip.

Elizabeth Bay and Sydney painted from Mrs Darling's Point Road

A superb Sydney Harbour scene, sweeping from Elizabeth Bay House in the middle-ground around to the lower north shore, showcasing Martens's remarkable talent at capturing the shimmering waters and the intense light of the city. Martens has chosen his viewpoint, the ridge at Darling Point looking back across Elizabeth Bay towards the city, with great care, giving full rein to his skill as a landscape artist while also allowing him to devote his typical care to the foliage in the foreground: his informal scientific training meant that he was one of the few colonial artists to really master the distinctive look of the Australian Bush, and he took unusual care to be botanically accurate. More, in the present picture he has purposefully set out to minimise the built landscape by positioning the central tree in just such a way as to mask most of the city apart from the imposing Stables for Government House (now the Conservatorium of Music).

A superb Sydney Harbour scene, sweeping from Elizabeth Bay House in the middle-ground around to the lower north shore, showcasing Martens's remarkable talent at capturing the shimmering waters and the intense light of the city. Martens has chosen his viewpoint, the ridge at Darling Point looking back across Elizabeth Bay towards the city, with great care, giving full rein to his skill as a landscape artist while also allowing him to devote his typical care to the foliage in the foreground: his informal scientific training meant that he was one of the few colonial artists to really master the distinctive look of the Australian Bush, and he took unusual care to be botanically accurate. More, in the present picture he has purposefully set out to minimise the built landscape by positioning the central tree in just such a way as to mask most of the city apart from the imposing Stables for Government House (now the Conservatorium of Music).

Conrad Martens (1801-1878) was one of the greatest early Sydney artists and probably now the best known of all colonial artists, who made his name sketching on the Beagle with Fitzroy and Darwin in South America. After arriving here in April 1835, Sydney became his great subject.

As the present painting fully attests, he was particularly drawn to the glittering waters east of the city through Woolloomooloo, Point Piper and Rose Bay. Soon after his arrival in Sydney Martens had made a series of forays along this southern shore of the harbour, with a number of his earliest views being made along the road which led to Macquarie's lighthouse. Martens had found his métier and some instant success, which very quickly brought him to the attention of Alexander Macleay, who was then building his famous Elizabeth Bay House, considered the "ultimate trophy home" and still one of the most beautiful colonial buildings in Sydney (MHNSW).

Macleay, a prominent natural historian and friend to grand figures in Britain including Sir James Edward Smith and Robert Brown, had needed some convincing to take up the position of Colonial Secretary to NSW in 1825, but quickly became a mainstay of Sydney politics and culture. Immensely friendly with Governor Darling, he was granted an imposing acreage at Elizabeth Bay and soon appointed the architect John Verge to build a magnificent stuccoed Greek-revival building, surrounded by a garden "famous for its rare plants" (ADB).

The house was of the greatest significance to Martens. The artist is known to have taken a series of pencil sketches of the house as it was being built by Verge, Macleay personally acquiring a view before the building was finished (in 1836) for three guineas, and definitely executing a small watercolour when it was finished. Most significantly, Martens then took a "stack of commissions to paint the house from suitors for Macleay's six beautiful daughters" (de Vries-Evans).

Martens learnt the technique of watercolour, especially a particular knack at depicting the effects of weather, from his teacher Copley Fielding; and the skills of strict topographical accuracy, infused with a particular interest in botany and cloud formations, while on the survey vessels Hyacinth (Capt. Blackwood) and especially the Beagle (Capt. Fitzroy) in the early 1830s. Throughout his career he could effectively draw on the two techniques at will and to great effect, as the current work shows very clearly.

These uncommon abilities stood him in good stead, his works greatly appreciated by any number of important critics: Darwin kept two of his old shipmate's sketches on the walls of his study and it is notable how many of the colonial scientists such as the Franklins and Sir Thomas Mitchell patronised him as well, quite apart from a rollcall of pastoralists and government officials.

This painting is considered to have been done by Martens in the mid-1840s, part of the series of Elizabeth Bay House commissions he took around this time. It is a particularly good example of his more atmospheric style, well-suited to a work which so vividly evokes the beauty of the harbour shoreline.

Provenance: Private collection, Melbourne; thence by descent.

Condition Report: Bright condition, sealed repaired tear in sky.

Price (AUD): $68,750.00

US$45,687.41   Other currencies

Ref: #5000833

Condition Report