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Mary Allport (nee Chapman) was Tasmania’s first professional artist and one of the most important early Australian artists. Her life and works have been well documented both visually and in written form.
Mary painted studies of flora, fauna, miniatures and landscapes. She preferred to paint flowers in the wild rather than in gardens and demonstrated much skill in observation and an eye for detail.
Mary was born in England and came to Van Diemen’s Land in 1831 with her husband. They had hoped to survive farming in the Broadmarsh district but due to difficulties her husband decided to resume his legal career. Some watercolours of her first home, which has been described as a dog kennel, are in the Allport Collection.
After moving to Hobart, Mary started making prints. There are still some examples of these first prints, such as ‘Rathmore My First Etching MMA’ and hand coloured engravings on copper of local flowers that were used as a frontispiece to Elliston’s Hobart Town Almanac for 1838.
Both Mary and her husband were intellectuals interested in natural history that resulted in them being the founding members of the Tasmanian Society (which later became the Royal Society of Tasmania). Mary was also one of the founding members of the Tasmanian Archery Club.
Mary has been known as starting the first enterprise in Australia when she advertised to sell her miniatures. She taught her own children and friends sketching.
Many of Mary’s lithographs were published and she exhibited locally and in Paris. For the Universal Exhibition in 1855 she exhibited a chess table which featured wildflowers painted in the squares.
Phipps, Jennifer, Artists' Gardens - Flowers and Gardens in Australian Art 1780s-1980s, Sydney: Bay Books, 1986.
Kerr, Joan (Ed), ‘The Dictionary of Australian Artists, Painters, Sketchers, Photographers & Engravers to 1870’, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Tas. Historical Research Assoc., Papers & Proceedings Vol. 31-32, 1984-85, Hobart: TheAllport Library & Museum of Fine Arts, Oct. 1972.
Tasmaniana Collection State Library of Tasmania
Allport Library and Museum: www.tased.edu.au/library/allport/
Self-portrait by the artist courtesy of Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania.