Acquisition of rare and early drawing of an Aboriginal warrior

In November 2017 the Ian Potter Museum of Art acquired at auction a rare and early drawing of an Aboriginal warrior bearing a shield and club by the French artist Nicolas-Martin Petit.

Petit, together with his fellow artist Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, was part of the extensive retinue of scientific men who accompanied the French expedition (1800-1804), led by Nicolas Baudin, to chart the coastline of Australia unexamined by James Cook and to study the land and its inhabitants.

This sensitive drawing is one of a small number of full-length studies of Aboriginal people by Petit, which complement a series of exquisite bust portraits. Some of these are known through subsequently published engravings, though this drawing is previously unknown. Although it was almost certainly drawn while Petit was in Sydney in 1802, where the expedition recuperated for five months, it is not known which community this man is from, given the disruption, deaths and movement of people in the fourteen years since the First Fleet had arrived. The large majority of the art from this voyage is held in the Muséum d’histoire naturelle in Le Havre, France: this is the first drawing by Petit to enter an Australian institutional collection. Its purchase was generously funded by the Miegunyah Fund to enhance the Russell and Mab Grimwade Miegunyah Collection.

Image: Nicolas-Martin Petit, Aboriginal warrior in profile, c.1802. University of Melbourne Art Collection. Purchased 2017, The Russell and Mab Grimwade Miegunyah Fund