The National Museum of Australia in Canberra has purchased two rare pen and ink drawings thought to have been created more than a century ago by an Aboriginal artist. ‘Buckley’s Escape’ drawn by Aboriginal artist Tommy McRae, depicts convict William Buckley escaping captivity to spend the next 32 years of his life with Aboriginal people. The Museum paid $AU65,000 for the drawing.
The National Museum of Australia scooped up the two 1890s drawings by Tommy McRae at Deutscher and Hackett’s Important Aboriginal and Oceanic Art Auction in Melbourne on April 4. The museum bid $AU20,000 for the second McRae drawing, Murray Tribe Warfare, which shows Aboriginal people fighting in northern Victoria. McRae lived in the Upper Murray, Victoria, where he made and sold books of drawings. He is one of only a few Aboriginal artists to depict life in 19th century Australia. Both McRae drawings had been held by the same NSW family since being bought directly from the artist in the 1890s ::::
The National Museum purchased the drawings at auction for less than $AU100,000. Museums are capitalising on the flat market for Aboriginal art by buying important early pieces for public collections, at extremely low prices.
National Museum director Andrew Sayers says they have been trying to get a hold of the drawings for years. “It’s great to have a drawing which records – through Aboriginal eyes – one of the key moments of contact between European colonisers and Aboriginal people,” Mr Sayers said. “William Buckley’s story is one of the great Australian stories from the period of early European colonisation and contact. What is significant about Tommy McRae’s drawing is his treatment of William Buckley’s story from an Aboriginal perspective. The work contrasts with the way European artists tell Buckley’s story. For them the climatic point was the end of his three decades with Aboriginal people; for McRae it was the moment of Buckley’s entry into the Aboriginal world,” he said.
The National Historic Collection held at the museum already includes a sketchbook by McRae, which was acquired in 1986.
Other works by 19th century Aboriginal artists, including William Barak, are also present in the collection, as well and the pen and ink drawings by the artist known only as Oscar of Cooktown. The drawings will be on display in the gallery in coming months.
image source [top] arsineh houspian/deutscherandhackett
image source: [bottom] jason mccarthy/national museum of australia