Paintings from the Collection

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. 


Oil painting. Panoramic scene of a harbour.
About this item: 

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. 

Panoramic View of Sydney Harbour and the City Skyline
Arthur Streeton
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Gold diggings, Ararat, c.1855, by Edward Roper
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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.

Ancestral portrait of Quong Tart's mother
c 1888
unknown artist
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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.

Stockyard, near Jamberoo
Charles Edward Conder
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Picnic at Mrs Macquarie's Chair, 1855? / oil painting by unknown artist - image 1
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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.

Herbert Badham
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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.

View of Miller’s Point and Darling Harbour
c 1870
Unknown artist
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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.

George Street, Sydney
Alfred Tischbauer
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Captions and audio guides 

Discover the stories behind the paintings on your own device. 

Captions and audio guides are available at .

Visit Caption and Audio guides



Meet the curators

A smiling woman poses for the camera against a black background.

Louise Anemaat

Executive Director, Library and Information Services and Dixson Librarian, State Library of NSW Louise has published and lectured widely on the Library’s collections, and has worked closely with the acquisition, processing and curation of the manuscript and pictures collections over many years. She is the author of Natural Curiosity. Unseen art of the First Fleet (NewSouth Publishing, 2014), an analysis of the traditions of natural history art production in Australia and Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries.
A smiling man poses for the camera against a black background.

Richard Neville

Mitchell Librarian, State Library of NSW With a research background in nineteenth century Australian art and culture, Richard has curated numerous exhibitions and published widely on colonial art and society. He has also been extensively involved in the acquisition, arrangement, description and promotion of the Library’s renowned Australian research collections.
Photographic portrait of a smiling blonde woman wearing a white jacket.

Elise Edmonds

Elise is a senior curator at the State Library of New South Wales. With a background in Australian history and Museum Studies, Elise has worked with the Library’s maps, pictures and manuscript collections; acquiring, writing and promoting these to a variety of audiences. In 2009 she received a staff fellowship to research and scope the Library’s First World War collections. This led to curating several exhibitions highlighting the Library’s nationally significant First World War collections; Life Interrupted: personal diaries from World War I in 2014 and Colour in Darkness: images from the First World War in 2016. She is currently working on a final World War I exhibition examining children’s experiences during the war, planned for early 2019.
Photographic portrait of a red haired smiling woman, wearing glasses.

Margot Riley

Margot has curated numerous exhibitions and displays for the Library and contributes expertise across a variety of collection functions including research, acquisition and interpretation. She is a cultural historian with a special interest in popular culture, photography and dress and has written and lectured extensively about the Library's collections.

Conrad Martens and George Edwards Peacock: Sydney artists

Artists have always been attracted to the natural beauty of Sydney Harbour and its foreshores.

Convict artists in the time of Governor Macquarie

Many used their art to record and interpret the landscape and people of the early settlement.

Arresting gaze

A compelling portrait of a young colonial woman has been given new life. 

‘A degree of neatness & regularity’: part of the Works in Focus series

Sydney — Capital New South Wales was painted around 1800 — its solid buildings and carefully laid out gardens refute the idea that it was a cesspit of depravity at a time when the city was associated with 'the awful depravity of human nature'.

An unknown warrior: mysterious portrait of an unknown, handsome young Aboriginal man

This mysterious portrait of an unknown, handsome young Aboriginal man is believed to have belonged to Governor Lachlan Macquarie, described as ‘One of the NSW Aborigines befriended by Governor Macquarie’. Part of the Works in Focus series.

Americans on campus: part of the Works in Focus series

Sydney Teacher’s College was co-located on the grounds of Sydney University where American Military Police units were billeted, describing the impact of the Americans on campus. Part of the Works in Focus series.

A hint of eccentricity: a beautifully rendered, somewhat playful portrait

One of Australia’s most influential artists, George Washington Lambert (1873–1930), as part of the Works in Focus series.

After life: Maurice Felton’s portrait of 21-year-old Sophia

Looking at the portrait of this young woman, so full of life, you would never think it was painted after her death. But we know the sitter, posed so serenely in this picture, had died six months before it was exhibited at the artist’s Sydney studio. Part of the Works in Focus series.

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