Abstract: An Artful Business: Interpreting Business Development through the Eyes of Colonial Artists in Australia, 1850-1890

Deborah Breen


The work of artists in the colonial period in Australia presents a rich opportunity to explore the ways in which artwork adds to our understanding of economic life. Artists such as S.T. Gill and Eugen von Guerard observed and recorded the development of the colonies in a range of art work presented in exhibitions, salons, and as illustrations in books and magazines published in England, Germany, and Australia. An examination of their art allows us to see the increments of economic development as the colonies flourished. Examining these art works suggests the numerous ways in which artists participated in economic life: they cooperated with business people to produce images of the colonies for consumption; they raised the profile of art by organizing exhibitions; and they worked as illustrators, teachers, photographers, and designers in a range of creative industries. In a less tangible way, they also contributed to the recognition of cultural capital within the colonies, indicating that Australia was worthy of continued public and private investment. The work of colonial artists, intimately connected with the growth of the Australian colonies, proposes a narrative of economic life that is both an illustration of, and a complement to, the written record.