Image of Black Thursday painting by William Strutt

Black Thursday, February 6th, 1851, 1864 oil on canvas; 106.5 x 343 cm State Library of Victoria

State Library Victoria will host Heroes and Villains: Strutt’s Australia, a major retrospective dedicated to the work of celebrated mid-nineteenth century artist, William Strutt (1825–1915). The exhibition opens to the public on 14 July 2016. 

Heroes and Villains: Strutt’s Australia is the most comprehensive exhibition of William Strutt’s work ever staged. Visitors to this free exhibition will relive Melbourne’s golden age, when Victoria became a separate colony, gold was discovered, bushrangers roamed and explorers launched bold expeditions into the Australian landscape.

Trained at the most prestigious art academy in Europe, the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Strutt’s excellent technical skills provided him with an ability to create intricate dramatic scenes, immortalised in grand narrative works such as Black Thursday, February 6th, 1851, Bushrangers, Victoria, Australia 1852 and The burial of Burke. His watercolours, portraits, prints, preparatory sketches and large paintings provide a distinctive visual record of colonial life in mid-nineteenth century Australia and demonstrate the meticulous approach of an academically trained artist.

Image of The burial of Burke painting

The burial of Burke, 1911 oil on canvas; 122.0 x 204.0 cm State Library of Victoria

Strutt was also a renowned portrait painter of his day. He painted many notable Victorians including John Pascoe Fawkner and his wife Eliza, Governor Sir Edward Macarthur, Colonel Neill, John O’Shannassy, Frederick James Sargood and Robert O’Hara Burke. Strutt’s oil portrait of Burke is one of the great Australian portraits of the century.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with the National Library of Australia on this remarkable exhibition,” said Ms Kate Torney, Chief Executive Officer, State Library Victoria. “Heroes and Villains: Strutt’s Australia allows visitors to not only witness Strutt’s iconic paintings of Melbourne in its golden age but also gives them a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how these extraordinary artworks were created.”

The exhibition features more than 100 works drawn from the collection of State Library Victoria and the National Library of Australia along with loans from the University of Melbourne, the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria.

A program of events and free public talks will complement the exhibition, exploring key themes of history, culture and politics including defining moments in Victoria’s identity and an in-depth look at Strutt’s remarkable paintings.

Heroes and Villains: Strutt’s Australia is on show at State Library Victoria from 14 July until 23 October 2016. Presented in partnership with the National Library of Australia.

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