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Panorama of Sydney Harbour

Date: August 1907
Overall: 500 x 5419 mm, 5 mm
Medium: Watercolour paint, paper, linen
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Jeremy Grover in memory of Doris Frost and Dick Binney, conserved with the assistance of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Object Name: Frieze
Object No: V00008634
Place Manufactured:Sydney

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    This 20 metre panoramic frieze of Sydney Harbour foreshores at sunset was painted by Muriel Mary Sutherland Binney for the First Australian Exhibition of Women's Work, held in Melbourne in 1907. It was then selected for display in the Australian Pavilion at the Franco-British Exhibition in London in 1908 where it was awarded a silver medal. The watercolour depicts Vaucluse Bay, Rose Bay, Double Bay, Rushcutter's Bay, Potts Point and Garden Island.
    SignificanceThe frieze is a rare document of Sydney Harbour in the first half of the 20th century depicting a variety of working and leisure craft indicative of the time. The focus is on the harbour life of boats and navigational markers rather than the landforms or buildings that surround it. Although painted for an exhibition of womens work, the frieze stands alone as an exceptional example of the aesthetic and technical skill Binney had in an era when maritime painting and panoramas were genres traditionlly dominated by men.
    HistoryAt the 1907 Women’s Work Exhibition this ambitious panorama was entered with 23 other designs in the Fine Art Category class for 'Best original design for a frieze’, the prize being a guinea. As was the case with half the work in the exhibition, it was not for sale. However, evidently aware of the potential of her frieze for reproduction as a wallpaper, Binney applied for and was granted copyright on it in September 1907.

    Binney showed a diverse collection of work at the Melbourne exhibition along with the frieze including copper-plate etchings, an 'ingenious invention’ (probably the child’s cot and playground later shown in London) for which she won a second prize, a poster design 'for Biscuits’, a painted fire-screen and various painted silk products. Binney's frieze was not awarded a prize, yet was nevertheless chosen to be sent on to London for display in the NSW Court of the Australian Pavilion at the Franco-British Exhibition, held in London in 1908. The harbour frieze was seen to fit perfectly with the aims of the London show which was to encourage trade, commerce, tourism and immigration to New South Wales. According to the exhibition commissioners, 'the fine hand-painted frieze of Sydney Harbour by Mrs Binney, which stretched half way round the Annex’ was a factor 'in impressing upon the public the artistic side of Sydney’. Mrs Binney was awarded a silver medal for it and she received another for her cot and playground.

    Some time after Binney had patented her frieze it was cut into six pieces, possibly for installation in the Franco-British Exhibition. Afterwards it remained with the family, although descendants have no memory of ever seeing it on the walls of any family home. It has now been restored to its original four sections.

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