Watercolour views of Sydney

The Library has recently acquired a collection of six watercolour views depicting Sydney-siders and their town in the middle years of the 19th century by Jacob Janssen (1779–1856).  

Originally from Prussia, Janssen travelled extensively, living for many years in the United States, Rio de Janeiro, India and South-east Asia before arriving in Sydney on the Louisa Campbell on 5 December 1840 from Manila at the age of 61. He would spend sixteen years in the colony, dying at his Sydney residence in 1856 at the age of 77 and working as an artist right to the end.

Government House with emus, 1853
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Mrs Macquarie’s chair, 1853
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Janssen’s works often include interesting vignettes of people – less naturalistic figures, but rather depicting ‘types’. This interest, not seen in the work of English-trained artists like Conrad Martens, perhaps reflects his Prussian heritage and northern European traditions of genre painting.

The views include Government House with emus and Mrs Macquarie’s chair, both dated 1853; Bronte House, dated February 1856; and a view of the harbour towards Shark Island from the eastern suburbs. There are two views of the Macquarie Lighthouse marking the entrance to Port Jackson: one looks north, dated 1842, and the other looks south, dated April 1853. Included in these scenes are small clusters of people on the edge of the rocks; drinking and enjoying the outlook, whilst several sailing ships are journeying down the coast.

View of Bronte House, 1856
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Janssen’s Sydney is a scenic, romantic one. The town is represented as a genteel colonial outpost of European heritage. The scenes he has depicted are locales that were being enjoyed as places of leisure and tourist spots. Janssen is depicting the colony as a flourishing port town, with ships arriving and departing, some examples of fine architecture being built, and where citizens are enjoying leisurely pastimes amidst tranquil settings.

There are no references to Sydney’s convict past, Sydney’s Aboriginal community or evidence of poverty in the growing town.

These works add to the Library’s collection of Janssen’s views, including two fine oil paintings: [Sydney Harbour looking West], 1848 and [Sydney Harbour Looking towards the Heads], 1848 currently on display in the Library’s paintings gallery; along with a number of panoramic views of Baltimore, Maryland, 1831Calcutta from the Ochterlony Monument (Shaheed Minar), 1832 and Singapore (from on board the sunken ship Pasco), 1837.

The six watercolours of Sydney will on display in the Library’s Amaze Gallery from May 6 to November 2019.

Macquarie Lighthouse looking north, 1842
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Macquarie Lighthouse looking south, 1853
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Elise Edmonds
Senior Curator, Research and Discovery