Rare colonial art returns to city 

RARE artefacts worth millions of dollars will return to Newcastle 195 years after they were created.

The Macquarie Collectors Chest and Captain James Wallis’s album of paintings will form the centrepiece of the exhibition Treasures of Newcastle from the Macquarie Era, which will go on display at Newcastle Art Gallery next year.

 The chest and album were compiled by Captain Wallis, who was Commandant of the Newcastle penal settlement from June 1816 to December 1818.

The chest lay forgotten in a Scottish castle for nearly 150 years until it was found and later bought by the State Library for more than $1million in 2004.

It was created as an elaborate gift from Captain Wallis to Governor Macquarie as a thank you for his patronage and is decorated with scenes of Newcastle and local natural history specimens.

The rare album was acquired by the State Library for $2million at auction last year after it had been discovered in the back of a cupboard at a deceased estate in Ontario, Canada.

The album includes about 35 watercolours of Sydney and regional NSW, featuring Awabakal people, as well as sketches made in Newcastle in 1818.

Though some of the pieces bear Captain Wallis’s name, it is thought many were  created by convict artist Joseph Lycett, with whom the commandant struck a friendship. Lycett was sent to Newcastle in 1815 after reoffending in Sydney.

Treasures of Newcastle from the Macquarie Era is a partnership exhibition between the State Library of NSW and Newcastle Art Gallery.

Between them, the library and Newcastle gallery hold the biggest collection of Lycett oil paintings in Australia.

Launched at Fort Scratchley this morning, the exhibition will be at the Newcastle Art Gallery from March 2 to May 2013.

‘‘This collection tells us a lot about colonial Newcastle and how artistically and culturally it was so important. It led the way,’’ Newcastle Regional Art Gallery director Ron Ramsey said.

‘‘Residents, students and tourists will experience early Newcastle as never before when magnificent art works and historical treasures,’’ NSW State Library chief executive Dr Alex Byrne added.

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