Esam, Arthur (1850-1938) original watercolour ‘Near Gilang, South Australia’ 1901


Arthur Esam – “Near Gilang, South Australia” A 10-bullock team pulling a large load of wool, a homestead in the distance. Inscribed to the back. Signed & dated 1901.



Work 37x24 cm.


Arthur Esam (1850-1938) Arthur Esam was an Englishman, born in Ealing in 1850. At the age of 20, he came to Australia, seeking adventure, which he found as a drover and surveyor. His travels took him far and wide across the ‘out-back’, and art critic William Moore noted in 1934 that Esam had seen more of the continent than most Australians! He was also a naturally gifted artist, painting the people and the locations along the way. Cameras became readily available at this period, but his works were in great demand, regarded as ‘painterly’ and seen as accurate depictions of rural life at the time. They were the direct counterpart to the nostalgic thatch-roof and stagecoach scenes of old England that were popular amongst the homesick Australian immigrants, presenting instead the brave new world Europeans were cutting out from the rugged landscape. This watercolour has an interesting provenance, the Russell family of Baronah Plains in the Western District of Victoria. Family tradition has it that an impoverished Esam came knocking at the door of the Lorne holiday house, looking to sell some paintings to make ends meet. He found a sale, and returned sever- al times with more. As the works collected range from 1901-1907, this presents an interesting prospect: either he was selling old works, or the present chronology of his life is inaccurate. Certainly, it shows that he was painting from memory, as at these dates he was apparently far from the locations he was depicting. In 1887, on a return trip to England, he married an Adelaide born lady, and returned with her to Melbourne, where he lived in St Kilda. However, the depression of the 1890’s meant he took the drastic move of heading to the Coolgardie goldfields in W.A. , probably leaving wife - and daughter - behind. He is thought to have spent the next decade in W.A., apparently only returning in 1907 to Melbourne. These ‘Lorne’ watercolours perhaps fill in a small part of this time; a struggling artist selling pieces as he struggles to make ends meet. In 1934 he died, alone and senile, to be buried in a Public Grave as no relatives could be traced. What a sad end for a man with a fascinating tale to tell. Now, his watercolours tell his story for him.

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