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Absolon, John de Mansfieldlocked

(b London, c. 1843; d Perth, Western Australia, May 8, 1879).

Australian watercolourist, Soldier, colonist and businessman of English descent. The son of the watercolour painter John Absolon (1815–95), he served in the Queen’s Rifles and exhibited paintings and sketches with the Society of British Artists before first visiting Western Australia in 1869. Shipboard watercolour sketches and many studies of the bushland environs of Perth, such as From the Verandah at Northam, (1869–70; see Kerr, p. 5) recorded this first journey. He returned to England to marry Sarah Bowles Habgood, the niece of Thomas Habgood, an influential colonist, and daughter of Robert Mace Habgood, who divided his business and shipping interests between London, Fremantle and Geraldton. The couple returned to Perth, Western Australia, where Absolon helped manage the family’s mining and mercantile interests. The firm of R. W. Habgood & Co. of Fremantle and London was known thereafter as Habgood Absolon & Co. He adapted his painting methods to an impressionistic manner that captured the harsh light and sparsely vegetated antipodean landscape. He also represented the London Art Union in Western Australia from November 1871. Absolon’s watercolour sketches of Western Australia demonstrate, like those of a former associate, the watercolourist John Skinner Prout, a keen eye and rare sensitivity to the appearance of his new surroundings. These he documented in a plein-air style that pre-dated works by members of Melbourne’s Heidelberg school. His paintings depart, quite radically, from European prototypes. The handling of light, colour and atmosphere learnt during early painting trips with his father to the coast of Brittany probably assisted this process. He died, aged thirty-six, after only ten years in the colony.

Bibliography

  • B. Chapman: The Colonial Eye: A Topographical and Artistic Record of the Life and Landscape of Western Australia, 1798–1914 (exh. cat. by B. Chapman, Perth, A. G. W. Australia, 1979)
  • R. Erickson: The Bicentennial History of Western Australia, Pre-1829–1888 (Nedlands, 1988)
  • J. Kerr: The Dictionary of Australian Artists: Painters, Sketchers, Photographers and Engravers to 1870, (Melbourne, 1992), pp. 4–5