The Sydney Bird Painter Boobook owl (c. 1790-1800)

Boobook owl (c. 1790-1800)
watercolour and pen and ink over pencil
47.9 x 29.8 cm irreg. (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Warren Clark Bequest, 1999

This watercolour is the earliest Australian work in the NGV Collection. The boobook owl was drawn by an unidentified artist, possibly a member of the First Fleet, whose hand has also been identified in watercolours held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, depicting birds. At least three artists, now collectively referred to as the ‘Sydney Bird Painter’, worked on these drawings. Despite the artist’s attention to detail, the depiction of the owl reveals several inaccuracies – for example, the shape of the beak – which suggests the drawing was made from a stuffed specimen rather than from life.

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