Monday, 12 November 2012

Conrad Martens' artistic Crown

Some of the first artists to visit the infant colony of New South Wales were landscape painters. By the time European explorers and settlers had moved over the Blue Mountains in the 1820s, watercolour had firmly established itself around the British Empire as the preferred painting medium for landscape artists as it was both inexpensive and portable.

One of a series of three large watercolour views 
of Crown Ridge by Conrad Martens (Private Collection)

The London-born artist Conrad Martens (1801-1878) first came to Australia in 1835. Like fellow painter Augustus Earle, Martens had been employed by the pioneer naturalist, Charles Darwin  as ship artist on the voyage of the HMS Beagle. Martens was a great admirer of the pioneering English landscape painter, J M W Turner and throughout his painting career tried to emulate some of the painting techniques pioneered by his artistic hero.

Although he had travelled to other areas of the Lithgow district it was not until late in life that Martens visited the Crown Ridge on the western edge of Capertee Valley. The Crown Ridge peak is now officially known as Blackman’s Crown after an early explorer of the region, John Blackman (c.1792-1868). The Mudgee Road from Wallerawang to Capertee still passes around the eastern side of Blackman’s Crown on the edge of the Capertee Valley making it one of the most recognisable landmarks in the district.

Oil portrait of Conrad Martens
 by Pierre Nuyts (1853)

Unlike most artists, Martens kept detailed diary notes of his travels, painting projects and commissions. From these entries we know he spent a few days at Blackman’s Crown in December 1874. He stayed at the Crown Ridge Inn, a seemingly popular public house located on the southern side of the peak. One pencil study by Martens shows the Crown Ridge Inn with the Crpwn in the background. This inn no longer stands but some of its foundations can still be seen about 20 metres west of the present-day road alignment during winter when the grass is low.

Crown Ridge looking East, watercolour by Conrad Martens
View of Pantoney's Crown as seen from Pearsons Lookout c.1874
Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

Martens produced a series of detailed pencil drawings on site showing the Crown Ridge Inn, the Crown and the picturesque Capertee Valley below. He worked these studies up into three large watercolours some time after returning to Sydney. Two of these works are now in the Mitchell Library collection in Sydney while one remains in private ownership.

Martens was not the first artist to paint the Capertee Valley from the Crown. In a future post I will highlight the life and career of Mudgee artist Eliza Thurston (1807-1873) who painted the peak in the 1860s.

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