An image of View of the Heads, Port Jackson

Conrad Martens

(England, Australia 21 Mar 1801 – 21 Aug 1878)

View of the Heads, Port Jackson

Not on display
Further information

After accompanying Charles Darwin as topographical artist on The Beagle in 1833-34, Conrad Martens settled in Sydney in 1835 and soon established himself as one of the most sought-after artists in the colony, fulfilling many commissions for watercolours of the landscape and harbour.

This is one of four versions of this particular subject. Another, dated 1854, is in the State Library of NSW (formerly in the collection of Sir William Dixson) together with a pencil study of North Head dated 6 March 1849. The Art Gallery of NSW version was painted for H Tobias.

Martens gives detailed colour notes for the work in his account book dated November 1853, now in the State Library:

‘Second large drawing of the “Heads” – done on light grey paper – sky, lamp-black and[in?] Red. L. Black and blue, and a light wash of Bt. Sienna, to warm the tone of the grey paper, where it is required, - Sea, lampblack and Bt. Sienna or low Sienna – rocks - - a wash of B.urd. Sienna – the greys of rocks lampblack, and lake, darker part V. Brown & lake & Bt. Siena & lake. The same picture: In low middle tones without much colour such as cliffs. Then in middle distance make the lightest parts grey with yellow highlights, and the darker ones of a purple brown, balanced by green brown.’

Martens admired the work of 17th-century French artist Claude Lorrain and the most famous British artist of his age, JMW Turner. Under their influence, he has accentuated the drama of the scene - rain clouds forming and a shaft of light falling on the foam of a breaking wave in a heaving sea. It is a boldly realised work with strong diagonals and contrasts of light and dark.

This is one of a number of watercolours by Martens in the collection, one of which - ‘Apsley Falls’ 1874 - was the first Australian work acquired by the Gallery.

watercolour, gouache, gum, scraping out on paper
54.2 x 76.2 cm sheet; 71.5 x 93.2 x 7.0 cm frame
Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. corner, brown watercolour "C. Martens./ 1853".

Purchased with assistance from Overseas Containers Australia Ltd 1986
Accession number