It was a small and unassuming painting, positioned next to a doorway so it could have easily been missed. The sweet yet realistic rendering of the rabbit caught my eye. This rabbit was upside down and its neck was at a somewhat odd angle. In front of this rabbit was a pheasant unnatural propped up and also upside down. Then in the left of the painting I saw the barrel of a shotgun leant against the edge of the table. It was so perfectly morbid that it had to be modern. But it wasn’t. Still Life with Dead Game was painted circa 1845 by William Buelow Gould.
Gould was born in the English city of Liverpool in 1801. He was transported to the convict settlement of Van Diemen’s Land in 1827 for the theft of a coat, but he had hardly led a blameless life prior to this. Although given a 7-year sentence, like most convicts, he never made the return trip. Arriving in Hobart Town he was sent to toil at the brickworks. Gould’s record while in the penal colony did not improve and after being convicted of forging a bank note he was sentenced to serve time at Macquarie Harbour. En route convicts on board mutinied and Gould was one of the convicts that assisted the officers to safety. Due to this his sentence was reduced and he was assigned to a surgeon by the name of Dr James Scott. It was here that Gould began painting technical botanical specimens. Further offences however saw Gould once again sentenced to a term at Macquarie Harbour where, on recommendation from his former master, he was assigned to act as a house servant for Dr William de Little. It was here that Gould produced his most influential work under instruction from de Little painting technical portraits of the marine life that the doctor collected from the surrounding beaches.
In April of 2011 these collected works, Sketchbook of Fishes, was inscribed on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register, essentially a world heritage listing for historical documents. At the ceremony a CSIRO representative stated that these paintings are still used by scientists today and that the knowledge of scientific community about some of the specimens Gould illustrated has not progressed much since that time.
Gould was granted his certificate of freedom in 1835. Painting became his main source of income however as he descended into alcoholism his later works never reached the standards of his early years. Gould died in 1853.
Still Life with Dead Game became part of the permanent collection at the Geelong Gallery in 2008. Unfortunately due to copyright restrictions I can’t put a picture of Still Life with Dead Game up as part of this blog. So you’ll just have to visit Geelong Gallery.
Geelong Gallery is on Little Malop St, Geelong. It is open 10am to 5pm daily. Entry is free but a gold coin donation is appreciated.