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» William Strutt and the Art of Exploration

William Strutt and the Art of Exploration

Royal
William Strutt - Portrait of Burke
Parliamentary Library of Victoria

William Strutt (1825-1915) arrived in Victoria in 1850. He produced wonderfully vivid and witty pictures of everyday life in the colony, but his ambition was to make his name with large oil paintings of dramatic historical subjects, such as the famous bushfires of February 1851.

In the Burke and Wills expedition, he saw a chance to make such a picture, and he appears to have planned a painting of the expedition leaving from Royal Park. The Victorian Parliamentary Library possesses a sketchbook in which Strutt made portraits of Burke, Becker, Landells, and two of the Indian camel drivers, Esau Khan and Belooch. There are also views of the camel house in Royal Park and studies of the camels. In another album, also held by the Parliamentary Library, Strutt made several watercolour sketches of scenes from the expedition as he imagined them, including a surprisingly grisly image of Wills' skeletal remains being gnawed by wild dogs.

There is also an album of sketches, now held in the Dixson Library in the State Library of New South Wales, which includes the only known photographs of the expedition.

Ultimately, Strutt did not produce his big painting of the expedition, but he did paint a number of works around it, including a very fine formal portrait of Burke (private collection), and a depiction of the burial of Burke's remains at Cooper's Creek (State Library of Victoria).