The Library's reading rooms are open. Before you visit, please read Visiting the Library.
Paintings from the Collection
More than 300 original artworks from the Library’s unique collection of landscape and portrait paintings on permanent public display.
Paintings from the Collection
More than 300 original artworks from the Library’s unique collection of landscape and portrait paintings on permanent public display. The selected works range from the 1790s to today. The exhibition features portraits of the extraordinary and the everyday, rare and recent views of Sydney and the harbour, suburban streetscapes and burgeoning rural townscapes.
Each of these paintings offers a glimpse into the artist's world - how they saw it, or how they were commissioned to portray it.
They are a window into the past, but they also prompt us to ask what, and who is not visible.
This painting was a gift from Emily Cecilia Bowden-Smith to her husband Rear-Admiral Nathaniel Bowden-Smith, Commander-in-Chief of the Australian fleet 1892-1894 - a reminder of their time in Sydney living at Admiralty House.
This painting has been held in a private collection but will now be featured on permanent public display.
Mei Quong Tart was a well-known Sydney identity. He came from China to the goldfields near Braidwood as a child, and built a prosperous life as a merchant and businessman. This portrait of Quong’s mother is in the style of a Chinese ancestral portrait for the period. She is seated, dressed in traditional costume with her embroidered rank badge.
Ancestral portraits were often painted posthumously and hung in a family temple or altar to be venerated on important anniversaries. Quong Tart is said to have returned from a visit to China in 1888 with portraits of his mother and father, which he displayed in his Ashfield home, Gallop House.
Jamberoo is a town in the rolling hinterland behind Kiama on the NSW south coast. Home to the Tharawal people, it was initially settled by cedar cutters and then dairy farmers. The painting is titled ‘Stockyard’ in the lower right corner and signed.
Charles Conder probably visited the area when he was working for the NSW Lands Department. His father sent him to Australia in 1884 to work with his uncle, who was an officer in the Lands Department, hoping this would deter Charles from wanting to become an artist. Not to be discouraged, Conder carried his palette with him and painted as he travelled throughout New South Wales.
Herbert Badham (1899–1961) was an Australian realist painter. He studied under Julian Ashton and George Washington Lambert at Ashton’s Sydney Art School. Rejecting the focus on Australian bush and landscape, he embraced the modern city, depicting everyday scenes of ordinary life.
The painting Domesticity is typical of Badham’s focus on commonplace subjects recorded with careful detail. As with many of his paintings, the woman is a depiction of his wife, Enid. Although no longer a child in 1959, the girl represents Badham’s daughter, Chebi, suggesting the painting might be a nostalgic work from memory. A neighbour can be seen washing up through two open windows.
Rejecting the popular interest in the Australian bush and landscapes, he embraced the modern city. With its intimate viewpoint, Badham has encapsulated something almost universal, about middle class domestic life.
This view from Peacock Point, Balmain, shows a paddle steamer ferrying passengers between Balmain and the busy industrial and shipping hub on the city’s western edge. On the left in the middle distance are the signalling mast on Flagstaff Hill and the Observatory. Fort Street School (the old Military Hospital) can be seen on the ridge.
The cliff line below the ridge, on the left, was constantly changing due to the quarrying that had started in the 1820s. At the water’s edge, to the right, are the coal wharves, chimney and buildings of the Australian Gas Light Company works, which was operating by 1843.
Alfred Tischbauer was a scene painter at the Paris Opera, but was displaced by the radical revolutionary government of Paris in 1871, the Paris Commune. After coming to Sydney in around 1880, Tischbauer taught perspective at East Sydney Technical College and was an active participant in Sydney’s arts community.
This painting of George Street, taken from just north of the GPO, is likely to have been based on a photograph. Thompson & Giles’ fabric shop, on the left, was demolished in 1890 to make way for Martin Place. George Street bustles with well-dressed, prosperous crowds — working people are entirely absent.
George Street is dominated by telegraph poles, which were multiplying rapidly during this period, with the growth of telephony.