Making Their Mark—Colonial Artists of the Western District
From the first years of settlement, the Western District has taken on a unique social identity, one which encompasses all the towns located within it. Squatters and settlers spread themselves across the area during the 1830s and 40s but, with the onset of the gold rush in the 1850s, the eastern towns of Geelong and Ballarat became leading social and cultural centres. It was in these highly urbanised towns that much of the gold boom wealth had concentrated, and this was made manifest in the increase of classically-ornate public buildings and the growing patronage of the citizens towards the arts.
The works in this exhibition reflected the imbalance in economic fortunes which, combined with the proximity of Geelong and Ballarat to the colony's foremost town, Melbourne, resulted in a lower level of artistic activity in the towns at the western end of the District. Despite this, the works produced in towns such as Warrnambool, Portland and, to an apparently lesser degree, Hamilton, indicated that, although small, the artistic communities here were as active as those in the larger towns.
This exhibition document the changing nature of Western District art over the 19th century, as it reflected the social circumstances of the artists. From the intimate sketches of the earliest settlers to the formal portraits and public works of the later professional artists, these works reflect the Western District as a microcosm of the colony of Victoria.