Framed photographs (4), newspaper clippings (3), a mounted photograph and a photograph album, relating to Mme Juliette Henry, albumen / paper / wood / glass / ink / pencil, photographer unknown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1867-1920
Lucien Felix Henry was born in 1850 in Provence, in the south of France. He arrived in Paris to study art in 1867 and was accepted into Gerome's studio at the Ecoles des Beaux Arts. His studies were disrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris. He played a leading role in the popular movement to defend the Paris Commune in 1871 as Chef de la Legion, responsible for the defence of the 14th arrondissement. After their defeat Henry, with some 4000 other Communards, was incarcerated in the French penal colony of New Caledonia for seven years. In 1879 the Communards were amnestied and Henry arrived in Sydney.
This coincided with the International Exhibition held in Sydney, which ushered in a decade of prosperous growth within the colony. Henry successfully argued for state involvement in art education and by the end of the decade he had become a widely respected teacher and artist at Sydney Technical College. His Parisian art education had encouraged interdisciplinary work between the arts & industry which he sought to foster locally. His major project was to be a book entitled 'Australian Decorative Arts' for which he made some one hundred watercolour designs between 1889-91. He returned to Paris to seek a publisher although the accompanying text remained largely unwritten. Unfortunately the severe economic depression of the 1890s made publication of such a lavish work impossible. Henry died in France in 1896.
Few of Henry's oil paintings survive. 'La Baie du Mirroir, New Caledonia' is the only known painting to represent his experience of seven years incarceration as a political prisoner. He painted it soon after he arrived in Australia in 1879. It was first shown at the Garden Palace when the Sydney International Exhibition was in its final month, in December 1880.
The painting appears to have been used as an exercise in teaching. Its composition reflects the legacy of Henry's Parisian training in mid nineteenth century neo-classical landscape painting. The work does not depict a specific place in New Caledonia but is a more generalised memory of the Pacific island landscape and the Kanak people. Members of a Kanak family gaze to the sea, contemplating their world at sunset - a melancholic metaphor for their imminent colonisation. The depiction of indigenous people was a popular theme for colonial landscapes, offering an exotic flavour for metropolitan viewers.
In 1911 the museum acquired Lucien Henry's unpublished book illustrations, a series of elegant and fanciful watercolour designs. His time in New Caledonia was crucial to these works, with several illustrations showing references to the South Pacific. The museum also has objects in its collection attributed to Henry, most notably a water bottle elaborately carved from a coconut shell depicting the heads of four Kanak clan leaders, one identifiable as Atai.
Henry was important as an artist and teacher in shaping visual arts ideas in Sydney in the 1880s and 1890s. His utopian vision of an Australasian 'civilisation' in the Pacific was conceived while the federation of the Australian colonies was being planned. His public stand on many issues and his strong desire to see the development of an 'Australian style' coincided with the movement towards federation.
Ann Stephen, 2002
Donor acquired various Henry family effects from Mme Henry's descendents in New South Wales in the 1970s when he purchased several of Lucien Henry's paintings.