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George W R Bourne

born 1851

Captain George WR Bourne was a topographical artist and ship portrait painter working in the bustling colonial ports of South Australia (SA) and Western Australia (WA) in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century.

Born in England in 1851, Bourne arrived in Fremantle in 1876 where he worked as a labourer. In 1886 he applied for an immigrant grant of 50 acres in the Avon district. In the 1880s, Bourne also moved to Adelaide, sailing back and forth to WA combining his work as an itinerant marine artist with farming. Painting sailing ships, steamships, lighthouses and port scenes of the settlements along the coastal shipping route between the colonies, Bourne preferred to use the quick-drying medium of watercolour.

Bourne's finely drawn watercolours are typical of the professional ship portraitist, who created works as portable souvenirs for ship’s crew, their families and the owners. With the sea so close to the experience of all Australians at this time - the ocean voyage that brought them or their recent family to the southern hemisphere - was a definite experience worthy of a valuable artistic souvenir. The Victorian/Edwardian fondness for sentimentality and storytelling often saw the maritime artist as the preferred medium between the ship and the shore.

From dated works, Bourne was actively painting in SA in the 1880s and in WA between 1897 and 1902 on nearly all routes along the WA coast. His paintings provide a painterly impression of the increasingly busy mercantile life of the south-western colonial ports during these years of rapid growth and development. With the increasing use of photography at this time, many of Bourne's subjects are represented in contemporary photographs. Despite this technology, Bourne's ship portrait commissions are delicate, detailed renderings of dramatic contemporary events found a willing audience and market. His small and portable unpretentious paintings touch upon the great themes of Australian 19th century life - European arrival and settlement, the importance of sea-borne trade and the continued investigation of the Australian landscape.