Museum bid to acquire ‘new world’ George Stubbs paintings

Kangaroo ©Private Collection, Courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

Paintings that offered 18th-century Britons their first glimpse of creatures from the ‘new world’ could soon be housed in a London museum.

The National Maritime Museum has launched a £1.5 million bid to acquire Kongouro from New Holland and Portrait of a Large Dog, created by artist George Stubbs following Captain Cook's expeditions to the Pacific.

The oil paintings were the first depiction of a kangaroo and a dingo in Western art. First exhibited together in London in 1773, they gave Britons their first look at creatures associated with the ‘new world’ of Australia.

The paintings, which have remained in the UK since 1773, were in February put under an export bar to provide a last chance to raise the £5.5 million needed to keep them in the UK.

It was decided the paintings were of outstanding significance for the study of 18th century exploration of Australia and the public dissemination of knowledge during the Enlightenment.

Potential buyers will have to come up with £5.5m if the paintings are to stay in the UK.

The National Maritime Museum has already secured £3.2m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and £200,000 from the Art Fund.

Should the appeal be successful, the works will initially go on display in the Queen’s House, Greenwich in 2014.

Portrait of a Large Dog (Dingo)  ©Private Collection, Courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

The paintings were commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks following his participation in Captain James Cook’s first Pacific voyage of ‘discovery’ aboard HMS Endeavour between 1768 and 1771.

Artist George Stubbs was unable to paint the kangaroo and dingo from life, instead he worked from verbal accounts.

Lord Sterling, chairman of Royal Museums Greenwich, said: “Royal Museums Greenwich has a once in a lifetime opportunity to complete the acquisition of these two remarkable paintings which will enhance immeasurably the Museum’s role in engaging audiences worldwide with the story of exploration.”

Carole Souter, chief executive of HLF, said: “No one captures the movement and magic of animals better than George Stubbs. 

“These two paintings form an extraordinarily important part of the James Cook voyage of ‘discovery’ story. 

“The Heritage Lottery Fund believes they are an integral part of our seafaring nation’s multi-layered heritage, and we hope that our grant of just over £3million, along with contributions from other funding partners, will enable them to be acquired by the National Maritime Museum.”

The public can donate to the appeal online via JustGiving, in person at the Museum or via mobile phone by texting STUB35 to 70070. Visitors to the Museum can also see the paintings, which are on public display in the Sammy Ofer Wing throughout the fundraising campaign.

To find out more about the appeal, click here.

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