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1852 sketch for watercolour

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CONRAD MARTENS

A Note on His Background and Visits to Stroud

The Stroud of 1841 and 1852 appears on notecards being sold to aid conservation of the St John’s buildings. They carry images made by Conrad Martens now held in the collection of the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Conrad Martens (1801 - 78), a pupil of Copley Fielding, was engaged to replace Augustus Earle as topographical artist on HMS Beagle in 1833 in Montevideo. Also aboard on Beagle’s survey voyage was the young naturalist Charles Darwin and midshipman Philip Gidley King, grandson of Australia’s third Governor.

After the Admiralty warned Captain FitzRoy to cut expenditure, Martens left the Beagle. Eventually he found passage to Sydney via Tahiti and arrived in Sydney in 1834. Martens set up a studio in Sydney and became the preferred local artist of the ruling elite. His work as a landscape painter was precise, recognisable and small in scale intended for domestic settings.

In NSW Martens had connections with the Australian Agricultural Company through his friend Midshipman Philip Gidley King, son of Phillip Parker King (AAco commissioner, 1839 - 1849). In May 1841 Martens journeyed south from Gloucester to Stroud and then on to Port Stevens The road he travelled on had recently been surveyed by Philip Gidley King, then living in Stroud, and employed by the AAco.

Later, a slowdown in commissions in Sydney caused Martens to look to a new venture to enable him to continue as a professional artist. He decided to travel from Brisbane across the Great Dividing Range to the Darling Downs, south to New England, The Liverpool Plains and Hunter Valley to Port Stephens. This last leg took him through AAco land in 1852, when he painted St John’s Church, Stroud.

Conrad Martens was at the height of his creativity in the 1850’s, and although not a genius he was a landscape artist of the highest order, who at his best surpassed his teacher Copley Fielding. Most of all he had the ability to produce images of high quality which combined accuracy and sensitivity. In times before the camera came into general use we are indebted to Martens for being able to look at familiar places in Stroud and realise they are little changed.

The above notes draw upon the authoritative Conrad Martens: Life and Art, by Elizabeth Ellis, former Mitchell Librarian.