The Art of Travel in the Name of Science

Ferdinand Bauer. Brown's Leatherjacket (Acanthaluteres brownii), (detail) c. 1811, London watercolour on paper. Reproduced with the Permission of the Natural History Museum, London (Library and Archives).

This public lecture explores the significance of mobility to an understanding of visual culture in the colonial period, focusing in particular on the works of art produced on board Matthew Flinders' inaugural circumnavigation of Australia between 1801 and 1803: by British landscape painter William Westall (1781-1850), and Austrian botanical artist, Ferdinand Bauer (1760-1826).

The paper not only considers the status of the traveling artist as eyewitness in the period, but also examines the mobility of visual culture itself, and the implications for art history in a globalised world. The Art of Travel in the Name of Science considers the inherent contradictions between mobility and place as they condition our understanding of the art of exploration.

Dr Sarah Thomas has over fifteen years of lecturing and curatorial experience in both the United Kingdom and Australia. Since moving to London in 2009, she has taught art history and museum studies at Kingston University, Birkbeck College and UCL. She completed her PhD in 2013 at the University of Sydney, and is currently writing a book, Witnessing Slavery: Travelling Artists in an Age of Abolition, which engages with a variety of vital current debates, ranging from studies of empire; interest in the relationship between art and its related disciplines, anthropology, geography and science; the geo-politics of travel within the 'Black Atlantic'; and more broadly, the critical agency of visual culture in the construction and consolidation of imperial power and identity. She has a particular interest in the colonial and post-colonial art of Britain and its former colonies, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, and Barbados. As curator, her most recent exhibition is Colonial Afterlives, an examination of the legacies of empire in contemporary art. Her major publications include The Encounter, 1802: Art of the Flinders and Baudin Voyages (Art Gallery of South Australia, 2002); book chapters including 'Slaves and the spectacle of torture: British artists in the New World, 1800-1834' and 'Allegorizing Extinction: Humboldt, Darwin and the Valedictory Image'; journal articles such as 'The Spectre of Empire in the British Art Museum' (Museum History Journal, 2013) and '"On the Spot": Travelling Artists and Abolitionism, 1770-1830' (Atlantic Studies, June 2011).

Dr Sarah Thomas’ research on William Westall has been generously supported by the Hakluyt Society.