Artistic Depictions of Australia’s First Federal Parliament

The importance of the opening of Federal Parliament required a significant visual record of the event, and a group of businessmen commissioned Charles Nuttall to produce a large painting depicting as many of the dignitaries as possible. Another group asked Tom Roberts to do a painting. Both artists produced large paintings, but in very different styles. Charles Nuttall's painting aims for clarity, while Tom Roberts' painting is more evocative and impressionistic.

Both painters used some artistic licence in their depictions of the event. The dais and steps depicted in Robert's painting do not resemble those used. Nuttall arranged the parliamentarians in curved rather than straight rows in order to include more faces, substituted spiky palms for massed chrysanthemums around the dais, and included George Reid (a former NSW premier and future Prime Minister) who missed the event due to illness.

Both artists aimed to create a moment of mythical importance to Australian history in their depictions. They chose the moment the sun burst through the clouds and cast a beam of light onto the scene. Tom Roberts' painting, on loan to Parliament House in Canberra, is in the Royal collection. Charles Nuttall’s painting, in the collection of Museum Victoria, is on display in the Royal Exhibition Building.

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