boomerang and a lot of work has yet to be done on the watercolours which is however likely to yield a treasury of information on art and botany and bird life in early New South Wales. The library’s ground-breaking purchase is the last major cache of early New South Wales natural history art left in private hands. The existence and whereabouts of the collection has long been known, and with a strong Australian dollar and the backing of a Japanese corporation the library pounced. The price for the watercolours has not been disclosed, but usually reliable sources suggest that they could be of the order World of Antiques and Art is now reporting. The 741 drawings of fishes, flora and fauna are in six albums compiled in the late 18th early 19th centuries by the Aylmer Lambert (17611842) a leading British botanist who is best known for his work on pine trees. Edward Smith-Stanley, the 13th Earl of Derby, acquired them in 1843 and they have only now come back on the market. The 13th Earl was a big collector who left the stuffed and other specimens in his collection to Liverpool Museums and a big new museum has just been opened in Liverpool to rehouse them. The watercolours were a coup—admittedly one waiting to happen—by any standards. The Mitchell Library at the State Library NSW, with its big First Fleet collection, is the natural home for them. The Mitchell librarian, Richard Neville who has handled the purchase, says the majority of the pictorial material of this nature remains in English public institutions, with no possibility of repatriation. ‘They are the very working tools by which knowledge of Australia and its environment found its way into European consciousness, into books and museums,’ Neville says. The purchase was made possible through donations from TAL (formerly Tower Australia) and its parent company Dai-ichi Life, the State Government of NSW and the State Library Foundation. Some of the Earl’s other holdings, however, are already in the Mitchell. The Earl also owned a collection of thirteen Australian views by the colonial artist Joseph Lycett, which were acquired by the SLNSW at a Christie’s sale in 1953.
Various museums in Merseyside are a bit of a debtor to Australia. The Lady Lever Museum at Port Sunlight has several iconic Victorian Olympian paintings that had been in the collection of Sir George McCulloch (founder of BHP) until their sale in 1911 at Christie’s in London. The ‘Broken hillionaire’ gave only a few works to the Australia museums. From 2007 Liverpool Museum has been returning Australian Aboriginal skeletal remains which came to the UK and into its possession when they were purchased from Dr William Broad of Liverpool in 1948, who had visited Australia between 1902 and 1904 and published works on them. The acquisition suggests public museums will be leading players in the art and antiques market this year. At the Bonhams June 2011 decorative arts sale held in Sydney they were strong if not always successful bidders. A lot of important sales activity is also taking place by private treaty that would previously have been done by auction. The Earl of Derby’s collection was never likely to have been an auction proposition as no single individual would have been able to accommodate all of it. The collection would have been hard to split up and irresponsible to do so from a heritage point of view. These deals, which cut out the chance of the public humiliation of a work when it fails to sell under the hammer, are done discretely and do not tend to come to light. But for five to ten per cent or more—and no sweat or buyer’s premium— everyone involved is happy.
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