An image of Australian Aboriginal female, Sydney

BE Minns

(Australia 17 Nov 1863 – 21 Feb 1937)

Australian Aboriginal female, Sydney

Other titles:
Aboriginal woman, Sydney, New South Wales, Study of Aboriginal female, Aboriginal Girl, Sydney
Not on display
Further information

B E Minns is most admired for his early watercolours and etchings, produced before he left for England in 1895. Outstanding was his series of enigmatic and powerful portraits of Aboriginal people, six of which are in the Gallery's collection, including the singular head study of a young woman, her gaze focussed intensely into the distance.

In 1884 at the Annual Exhibition of the Art Society of New South Wales, Minns exhibited a number of portraits with the titles 'Meditation (a type of NSW Aborigine)', 'Aborigine girl' and 'Types of New South Wales Aboriginals'. A number of those depicted were from Bermagui, on the south coast of New South Wales, although their identities are now lost to us.

By the 1880s, Aboriginal people in the Bermagui area were employed in industries including whaling, timber and agriculture, following epidemics in the earlier part of the century that had decimated the original Indigenous population. However, increasing government control of Aboriginal people was also evident by this period with the establishment of reserves, such as that at Wallaga Lake, just north of of Bermagui, by the Aborigines Protection Board in 1891.

Minns' titles emphasize the subjects as types rather than individuals. This was an approach shared by a number of artists throughout the century, including Minns' contemporary Tom Roberts, who made a series of paintings of Aboriginal people in the early 1890s, and others earlier in the century such as Thomas Bock (1793-1885), Robert Dowling (1827-86) and John Skinner Prout. While not unsympathetic to the individuality of his sitters, Minns' perspective was common to many in the nineteenth century who considered Aboriginal people to be part of a noble but dying race, a distinct but passing feature of Australian life that was worth recording before its inevitable decline.

excerpt from Hendrik Kolenberg, Anne Ryan and Patricia James, '19th century Australian watercolours, drawings & pastels in the Gallery's collection', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005

pencil, watercolour
41.7 x 29.0 cm sheet
Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l., brown watercolour "BE MINNS/ .../ 95".

Purchased 1896
Accession number