An extract from
ARTFUL HISTORY – Macquarie as a subject for contemporary artists by Patti Miller
‘Look’ the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales magazine, April 2010 issue.
The effect of the juxtaposition of portrait and landscape, contemporary figure and historical background is to draw the viewer into a contemplation of the relationship between the past and the present. Marshall says he “wants to create an awareness of what is forgotten in history”; but he has done more than that, he has created a sense of how the past lives on in the present.
Peter Marshall has taken an entirely different approach. He was attracted to Elizabeth Macquarie rather than her more famous husband, partly, he says, because he is more interested in “people in the background, those who may be overlooked”, but also because he shares her passions for botany and drawing.
Elizabeth Macquarie was instrumental in extending the Governors ‘Domain’ to establish the Botanic Gardens in 1816. She was interested in the strange new plants of her adopted country and in exploration, being the first white woman to cross the Blue Mountains that same year. She took Lewin, her art teacher with her, and painted and drew plants and landscapes.
After reading journals, letters and two biographies of Mrs Macquarie, and studying the art produced during that period by convicts and soldiers, particularly Lycett, Eyre and Lewins, Marshall began evolving an intriguing approach. He re-interpreted the early watercolours and engravings, especially those with botanical subjects, then superimposed images of contemporary women of the approximate age of Mrs Macquarie when she arrived in Sydney. But these were not just any modern women; each one is a descendant of a convict who lived in the colony at the same time as Mrs Macquarie.
In reading and in re-examining the art made by Mrs Macquarie and her contemporaries, Marshall feels he was able to enter into her world. “In a sense,” he says, “I am painting her ‘descendants’, each of them, in some way, the woman she could have been today”.
This technique of superimposing images, revealing Marshall’s skilful and sensitive drawing, developed over time. The effect of the juxtaposition of portrait and landscape, contemporary figure
and historical background, is to draw the viewer into a contemplation of the relationship between the past and the present. Marshall says he “wants to create an awareness of what is forgotten in history”; but he has done more than that, he has created a sense of how the past lives on in the present.