Augustus Earle ( 1793 - 1838)

Painter and lithographer, born in London on 1 June 1793, son of an American Tory portrait painter who fled to England in 1778. His uncle, Ralph Earl, was an eminent American portrait painter, his older sister, Phoebe, became flower painter to Queen Victoria, while her husband, Denis Dighton, was a printer who later lithographed some of Earle’s watercolours.

Earle reached Hobart in 1825 on the Admiral Cockburn after being rescued from the remote island of Tristan da Cunha, and spent three years in Australia painting portraits of ‘exclusives’, landscapes and the Aborigines. He spent four months in Van Diemen’s Land and then left in May 1825 for Sydney. There he quickly established himself as the colony’s leading artist and on the 8 July 1826, Earle advertised the opening of his art gallery at 10 George Street, Sydney, where he offered painting lessons and ‘a large assortment of every description of articles used in Drawing, Painting &c.’ as well as his own pictures. In August 1826 Earle was given a lithographic press by the astronomer James Dunlop that had been brought out by Governor Brisbane, which was probably the first lithographic press in the colony. Earle’s first lithographic attempt was a portrait of the Sydney Aborigine Bungaree. By November he had published the first part of his lithographed views of Sydney, Views in Australia and the second part was issued the following month.

Earle’s views were not a success as no further parts were issued as had been his original intention. There are three known sets of the Sydney printing of these lithographs, all are in institutional collections.

On 20 October 1827 he sailed for New Zealand on board the Governor Macquarie, with a view to record its landscape and inhabitants. Earle wanted to know more about the Maori, some of whom he had met in Sydney. He spent eight months in Hokianga and the Bay of Islands. No native race he had studied on his travels could compare with the New Zealanders, that ‘splendid race of men’ with ‘a natural elegance and ease of manner’. Earle painted dozens of accurate representations of Maori customs, occasions and domestic scenes. He left Northland in May 1828 to continue his travels. He was the first European artist to establish himself for a time in New Zealand and make a prolonged study of a part of the country and a number of its people.

Back in London in the 1830s, he exhibited and published his views of New Zealand, New South Wales, and Van Diemen’s Land.

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