Portrait of Elizabeth Ann Wilson Potter, Mrs Francis Barnes

This portrait was painted by the famous artist Augustus Earle in Hobart in 1825.

Earle is best known as the first artist to accompany Charles Darwin on the Beagle during his voyage. He was trained in the British Royal Academy and travelled extensively throughout the United States, South America, India and the Mediterranean.

Portrait of Elizabeth Ann Wilson Potter (Mrs Francis Barnes). Silentworld Foundation Collection SF001457>/a>.

Portrait of Elizabeth Ann Wilson Potter (Mrs Francis Barnes), Silentworld Foundation Collection SF001457.

An accidental 'Australian' artist

Earle arrived in Australia by happenstance.  He was actually on his way to Calcutta when the sloop Duke of Gloucester stopped at the remote island in the south Atlantic, Tristan d’Acunha, to take on a cargo of potatoes.  Earle went ashore with his dog Jemmy to explore.  Before he got back to the ship, a gale blew up and the captain had to up anchor and sail away.  Earle was stranded for eight months in one of the remotest places on earth, a rocky island with a population of only six adults!  He was rescued by a passing ship bound for Hobart.

During the four years between 1825 and 1828 Augustus Earle worked in Tasmania, then Van Diemen’s Land, and New South Wales.  He has been described as, ‘by far the most interesting artist working in New South Wales in the 1820s.’  In his travels, Earle painted portraits of a cross-section of colonial Australia from the Governor of New South Wales to Aboriginal elder Bungaree, as shown in the video below from the National Gallery of Australia. This portrait is in that vast cross-section of the Australian population.

A timely portrait

Elizabeth Ann Wilson Potter was born in Hampshire, England.  She was convicted of larceny in 1813 and transported to New South Wales for seven years.  The following year she was transferred to Hobart where she married Philip Macklin.  Ten years later she married again to Francis Barnes.  Barnes was a former soldier and printer who had also been transported.  His crime was the theft of banknotes.

Francis Barnes was one of the first settlers who came to Hobart with Lt-Gov David Collins on the Calcutta in 1804.  By 1819 he was farming 50 acres of land and had four servants.  He was also the owner of the Hope Tavern in Macquarie Street which was Hobart’s first licensed premises.  The Hope Tavern was located closes to the waterfront at Sullivan’s Cove, an area where Augustus Earle would have frequented after his arrival in Van Diemen’s Land.

This portrait of Mrs. Barnes is very special for a number of reasons.  First is the date of 1825, which makes it an early Australian portrait by Augustus Earle.  Earle was in Hobart between January and May, 1825, when he left the town.  He did not return until October 1828.  Mrs. Barnes died in 1827 at the age of 43.  She was 41 at the time the portrait was made.  It also has a very clear autograph signature by the artist.  And finally, it is a pastel, not a medium that was seen to be used by Earle.  He is better known for his works in watercolours, coloured chalk and oil paint.  Plus, the work is in very fine condition in its original frame and glass.

Further reading

This blog is based on the catalogue entry for the Deutscher and Hacckett auction 49, Important Australian and International Fine Art, 10 May 2017, Lot 69 by David Hansen.

Select bibliography