Aboriginal subjects: 1856–1860

 

The images of the Aboriginal people of Victoria and Tasmania are among the most significant works in Dowling’s oeuvre and the most potent for the modern viewer.

The Victorian images, such as Weerat Kuyuut and the Mopor people, Spring Creek, Victoria, were painted from life when the artist lived in Geelong. They were people known to the artist by name and are painted on their land. They worked for Dowling’s pastoralist friends and family in the Western District. These paintings portray the Aboriginal people adapting to the realities of the European invasion and the violation of their traditional lands.

The Tasmanian images were recreated history, their subjects mostly having died. Dowling based his portraits of these people on earlier watercolour portraits by Thomas Bock and developed them, in Launceston, and later in London, into elevated history paintings.

Dowling’s images suggest a sense of rapport and respect for his subjects and his intention was to honour the Aboriginal people.