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By browsing all 70 works (many accompanied by explanatory texts) you can discover more about Robert Dowling. The works are organised by the same groupings or 'rooms' that you would view them in when visiting the exhibition.

Robert Dowling (1827–1886) holds a special place in the history of Australian art. He was the first locally produced artist in Australia. He specialised in portraiture, but also painted popular genre subjects, literary and religious themes, the most substantial Orientalist images by any Australian artist of the time, as well as images of the Australian Aborigines. He was Australia’s major portrait and figure painter from the late colonial period 1850–85.

Born in Britain into a devout Baptist family, he migrated to Australia with his family aged seven in 1834 and was raised in Launceston. He worked in Tasmania (1850–54) and Victoria (1854–56) before travelling to London (1857–84). He remained in Britain for 27 years, exhibiting at the prestigious Royal Academy and regularly sending paintings back to Australia for purchase by institutional and private collectors. Dowling visited Australia in 1884, a highly successful artist. He settled in Melbourne but returned to London in 1886 with the intention of moving back to Australia permanently. This plan was thwarted by his sudden death. 

‘His own nature was … genial and sympathetic. He took a cheerful view of life, looked on the bright side of human nature, and was somewhat of a laughing philosopher’

(James Smith, The Argus, 14 July 1886).

Educator resources

These self-guided kits have been designed to be used in conjunction with a visit to the exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. It is intended that students work in pairs when responding to the questions contained in the activity cards whilst they walk through the exhibition.