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Art Gallery WA Media Release
Frederick Garling, View across the coastal plain

Early WA on display

Unknown Land: Mapping and Imagining WA

Opens 17 September | Tickets on sale now

Unknown Land: Mapping and Imagining Western Australia is the Art Gallery of WA’s summer exhibition giving Western Australians and visitors to WA, the opportunity to view WA through works by early European colonists.

Traversing the west coast of Australia, this exhibition maps WA as seen through the eyes of those arriving from Europe in the early 1800s including professional artists, illustrators, surveyors, and explorers.

Over 150 works drawn from the State Art Collection, supplemented by key national and local loans, depict coastal views, landscapes, and detailed sketches of the flora and fauna as encountered by European explorers and settlers.

The exhibition includes primarily works on paper – drawings, prints and watercolours – alongside a focused selection of paintings. A highlight of the exhibition is the display of AGWA’s entire collection of colonial watercolours – the first time since 1979. These detailed works deliver surprisingly intimate and personal views of early European life in Western Australia.

Loosely grouped into key Western Australian locations – Albany, Fremantle, Perth and the Swan River – people will be able to see iconic scenes such as the view from Mount Eliza, Kings Park, views of Elizabeth Quay and Heirisson Island from an era long past, and reflect on how the places have changed since then.

Early WA encounters came in the form of images made by explorers – the Dutch, the French and the British who travelled past the WA coastline over the centuries. Topographical artists recorded, in a seemingly empirical manner, the look of the land, its peoples, plants and animals. Later settlers made more intimate views of the new places they called home, while political cartoonists back in England lampooned the Swan River Colony enterprise.

The exhibition explores the purpose of these early visual depictions, inviting visitors to reconsider the narrative conveyed, and it is a timely review of the early exploration of WA through the critical lens of today.

A counterpoint to the European impressions of WA is provided by Aboriginal artists Julie Dowling, Chris Pease and Shane Pickett. Their works interrupt and remind visitors that while the land was 'unknown' to European emigrants it has been home to the traditional owners of the land, the Aboriginal People, for thousands of years.

Quotes attributable to Melissa Harpley, AGWA Curator of Historical + Modern Art
“Visitors to Unknown Land will find it to be a visually rich experience. While many of the works on paper are physically small in scale, they are mostly big on ambition in terms of the amount of detailed information conveyed through them, and they really reward close inspection. I am sure that audiences will enjoy the beauty of the images and recognising views of many well-known places, but I also hope that the exhibition prompts questions about our history and, in this case, the role of art in the colonial enterprise.”

Key Information
17 Sep 2016 – 30 Jan 2017
Tickets on sale now
Adult $12 | Concession/Student $8 | Children 5-17 $5 | Under 4 free

A series of public programs will be announced in August.

Exhibition Partner


Further information

For more information, interviews and imagery please contact Tanya Sticca on 9492 6692 or email

Annual Sponsors

Principal Partner

Wesfarmers logo

303 MullenLowe, Singapore Airlines, Audi, Smartbots, Alex Hotel, Juniper Estate, Gage Roads Brewing Co.

Frederick Garling View across the coastal plain 1827. Watercolour and pencil, 13.2 x 37.5 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1978. Unknown Portrait of Spicer Cookworthy 1850s. Oil on canvas, 36.8 x 31.2 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Gift of Mrs I L Lindberg and her two sons Douglas and Henry, 1977.

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