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The National Picture

The Art of Tasmania's Black War

In 2014, Professor Tim Bonnyhady proposed a survey exhibition on the art of Benjamin Duterrau, who was arguably the last of the very major colonial Tasmanian artists to be given a dedicated exhibition. 

As the project developed, it became apparent that the exhibitions scope needed to be expanded, and that significant, confronting issues from Tasmania’s complex past would need to be discussed in the exhibition.

I engaged the respected art historian Dr Greg Lehman, Trawulwuy people north east Tasmania as the co-curator to work with us on the project. 

Given the new scope of the exhibition addressed a period of massacre in Australia’s history, we all agreed that meaningful consultation needed to be carried out throughout Tasmania. The consultation met and discussed the exhibition with  more than 20 community groups - informing them about the content, the different perspectives and how it would be presented  in the exhibition.

Co-curators of the exhibition, Professor Greg Lehman from the University of Tasmania and Dr Tim Bonyhady from the Australian National University, with Franchesca Cubillo, NGA Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art 


National Gallery of Australia

Canberra, 12 May – 29 July 2018

Tasmania Museum & Art Gallery

Hobart, 17 August - 11 November 2018

Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery

Launceston, 24 November 2018 to 13 February 2019

Australian Art Exhibitions Museum art gallery exhibiton design NGA National Gallery of Australia National Picture exhibition Franchesca Cubillo Greg Lehman Tim Bonnyhady

When the exhibition opened at the NGA, it included Duterrau’s greatest works and recreations of his three lost big pictures; a group of significant colonial works dating from the 1920's – 40's; five of the seven known proclamation boards and works by contemporary Indigenous artists referencing the historical works, addressing the ‘unfinished business and issues raised in the exhibition.

The exhibition was seen as a revelatory reconsideration of a key period in Australia’s colonial past. The show was very well attended and received great critical acclaim as a thoughtful and moving contribution to our ever-evolving national narrative.

Australian Art Exhibitions Museum art gallery exhibiton design NGA National Gallery of Australia National Picture Paul Daly Article

‘it’s an understatement to call this exhibition innovative. The National Picture, which interrogates the at best patchy visual record of the Black War and genocide of 1820s van Diemen’s Land, is audacious on both an intellectual and curatorial level, and provocative beyond comfort even for those more conversant with the darkest episodes of Australian history….


…. I’ve never wept in an art exhibition before. But when I stood before four portraits of Indigenous Tasmanians including Trucanini – paintings that were purchased from their creator, free settler Benjamin Duterrau, by a colonial government in 1837 to commemorate the Aboriginal people it had set about exterminating – the emotion was unanticipated and overwhelming.

Paul Daly, Author and Journalist
The Guardian, 14 May 2018 - The National Picture: overwhelming reminder of wilful gaps in Australia's history
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