Watling, Thomas - portrait of a man
Comparison of this miniature by Thomas Watling can be made with a recent record sale for a work by this artist, referred to below.
The Watling miniature in this collection is shown here in front and rear views. Also shown much enlarged is the signature "T W", which is faint as it was difficult to scan through the glass. The "T" and "W" are formed in the same manner as the example from the miniature of John White, and as if by an engraver, which was Watling's profession. However, it is conceded the initials may be meant to be "J W" or "I W".
In Foskett, there are no other obvious contenders with the initials "T W" and working around 1795-1805, which appears to be the date of this case. Foskett observes that Watling was working in Calcutta in 1803, and this was presumably after being released in Australia.
More recent research notes that he returned to Britain in 1804 and presumably continued painting there. Given the ornate frame, it seems possible this second miniature dates from after his return to Britain.
There is a small booklet about Thomas Watling which was produced to accompany a 1988 exhibition about him and his work in Dumfries, Scotland.
When acquired, this miniature was attributed to Thomas Watling and the sitter was said to be related to the Macquarie family who were early settlers in Australia. The rear does include initials which appear to read "M F". However, to date, no research has been undertaken to try and find an early Australian settler with the intitials "M F", but it seems a little unlikely that the sitter has an Australian connection.
However, if any researcher familiar with early Australian history, can suggest a suitable name, I would be very grateful. Of course, one obvious Australian explorer with the initials "M F", is the navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders (1774-1814), but this sitter looks to be too old to be Flinders.
It can be compared with one interesting miniature sold in late 2007 by Gorringes. A big surprise, it was this unframed miniature by the Australian convict and artist Thomas Watling (1762->1806). It was signed and dated 1792, the year Watling finally reached the colony in Australia, after being sentenced to 14 years for forging banknotes in Dumfries.
The miniature depicts John White, the chief surgeon for the First Fleet, the 11 ships that sailed to Botany Bay in 1786 to establish a convict settlement in Australia.
After his arrival, Watling made many drawings which form the basis of the important studies of wildlife, landscapes, and the indigenous people of Australia known as the Watling Collection, now housed in the zoological library of the Natural History Museum in London. He was pardoned in April 1797, see Watling, Thomas (1762 - ) Biographical Entry - Australian ...
The miniature was offered for sale by Gorringes in Sussex, England on 6 December 2007, seeking an opening bid of GBP120 and with an estimate of GBP200/400. I was tempted to leave an absentee bid of GBP550, well over the estimate to have a good chance of winning, but in the event did not bid.
To the astonishment of everyone, me included, but excepting the two bidders concerned, there were 405 bids according to the eBay auction record, which took the hammer price to GBP90,000, say $210,000 including buyer's commission.
To the best of my knowledge, this is a record price for any miniature sold at a combined live/eBay auction.
In reporting on the sale Antiques Trade Gazette - News & Analysis comments; "On his arrival, he was very quickly assigned to John White. White had become Surgeon General of New South Wales and, as an ardent naturalist who was collecting and documenting specimens, he made use of Watling�s artistic talents. Over the next two years Watling made many drawings which form the basis of the important studies of wildlife, landscapes, and the indigenous people of Australia known as the Watling Collection, now housed in the zoological library of the Natural History Museum in London. Indeed, many of the drawings are annotated in John White's hand. John White does have a connection to East Sussex since, after he returned to England, he spent his last years living in Brighton and died at Worthing in 1832."
Also "Watling's only major known surviving work is Sydney in 1794, a large oil painting which hangs in the Dixson Gallery, Sydney. There are some sketches and finished drawings, a few of which have appeared on the market, but the discovery of this miniature appears to be something of a first."
However, as there are now two miniatures by Thomas Watling, it suggests there are more waiting to be found. 340
Posted by Don Shelton at 4:39 PM