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Tommy McRae

Untitled (fighting Figures) - c.1880

Pen and ink on paper laid down on card
17.0 x 29.5 cm
Price Realised: $43,700.00

MP #230


Acquired by Alan Knox Buckley, Headmaster of Rutherglen School, in the last quarter of the 19th century
Thence by Descent
Sotheby's, Aboriginal Art, July 2006
Private Collection
Sotheby's, Aboriginal Art, July 2010
Private Collection, Vic

Watch the Review

Nineteenth century artist Tommy McRae lived and worked along Victoria’s upper Murray River area during the period that saw the disruption and ultimate end of traditional tribal life amongst the Aboriginal people of South-Eastern Australia. He was in his fifties and towards the end of this physically demanding work life when he began to draw consistently. A steady flow of interest and paid commissions followed. McRae was able to set up an independent camp for himself and family on the shores of Lake Moodemere, a large freshwater lake of ceremonial importance to his people.

Following his death, many of his drawings were collected and housed in museum archives. They were considered to be examples of ‘the dawn of art’ or an historical record of nineteenth century life. Though McRae’s images were rendered with a keen sense of observation, their true artistic merit and historical significance has only emerged relatively recently. During the 1980s and 1990s his drawings were included in major touring exhibitions and  McRae is now acknowledged as a significant figure in the history of Australian visual culture whose art practice was ’a creative choice within a culture of extraordinary complexity’*.

It is now well over a century since McRae created this captivating, lively and compelling work. It's rarity and fragility enhances it's ingenious beauty.

Ref. Onus, Lin, Southwest, Southeast Australia and Tasmania, in Aratjara; Art of the first Australians. 1993, Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria.
*Sayers, Andrew,  Aboriginal Artists of the Nineteenth Century. 1994, Australia. Oxford University Press.