Named in acknowledgment of the substantial contribution made by Robert Oatley AO to the National Portrait Gallery – and in particular his role in the acquisition of John Webber’s 1782 Portrait of Captain James Cook RN – the Robert Oatley Gallery features the earliest works from the NPG Collection. With portraits dating from the 1780s to the 1840s, this gallery considers the period when first peoples in Australia and the Pacific began experiencing continued contact with Europeans, with the Enlightenment age of exploration and discovery followed by one of colonisation, settlement and dispossession. Some of the faces typically on display in this Gallery have famous names attached to them – Captain Cook or Joseph Banks, for instance – and were created by distinguished artists of the day. Other portraits, though of lesser-known subjects, evidence the beginnings of artistic production in Australia while pointing to major themes of colonial experience: emigration, convictism, exploration, enterprise, and the complex encounters between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal newcomers.
In addition to the portraits of Cook and Banks, highlights in this Gallery are the busts of Tasmanian leaders Woureddy and Trukanini – Australia’s first portrait sculptures – created by Benjamin Law in Hobart in 1835 and 1836; the portrait of shipwright John Eason, painted by convict and artist, William Buelow Gould; and the portrait of mariner William Kinghorne, painted at Port Arthur by his friend, Thomas James Lempriere, in 1834.
Collection display galleries
The collection display includes a wide selection of portraits that tell extraordinary stories of encounter, exploration, independence, individuality and achievement in Australia. Visitors to the Gallery can follow the development of portraiture from oil painting to digital media.Entry is free.