“I can only say that I am captivated by the rich contrasts, beautiful skies, trees and clear light of this great land, and I am happy to say that I find countless people who respond in a similar way; and consequently derive great enjoyment from the never ending beauty of the Australian country side.” William Bustard, 1955
You need only have driven any of the roads winding through the Sunshine Coast hinterland or Northern NSW to recognise the effect of sunlight on the landscapes in William Bustard’s paintings. Dappled leaves, shimmering rivers, a fishing line glistening as it moves with the tide. These are scenes of my childhood – holidays in Noosa, day trips to Maleny, picnics along the bank of the Tweed River with my grandparents. The artwork is a comfort, and the memories soothing.
Funny that a man from Yorkshire could depict Queensland light so perfectly, but perhaps having eyes used to the British gloom made the light here particularly spectacular. There is no doubt William Bustard was acutely sensitive to the transformative effect of sunlight on a space, a talent he gifted to us via the buildings throughout Brisbane bearing the leadlight windows he designed.
Trained in the precise art of stained glass, Bustard travelled throughout the British Isles, Ireland, Europe and North America working on designs for cathedrals and civic buildings. In 1921 he migrated to Australia with his wife, and began the life of a bohemian expat in Queensland. Here, he worked on the lead-lighting in many of Brisbane’s churches, as well as buildings and memorials in Rockhampton, the Gold Coast and Darwin, while also teaching art part-time at the Central Technical College of Brisbane. He was made president of the Royal Queensland Art Society in 1932, and a foundation member of the board of trustees of the Queensland Art Gallery from 1931 to 1937. Bustard also held the position of Chairman of the art advisory committee for Queensland Art Gallery, but resigned when the inherent conservatism of the board got the better of him. Upon retirement, the man known as ‘Bill the Swift’ to his contemporaries moved to Labrador, where he lived and continued to paint up until his death in 1973.
This exhibition, one of the largest retrospectives of William Bustard’s career, covers all areas of his multi-faceted art practice. Examples of his early, pre-Australia paintings sit alongside replicas of his most well known stained glass windows, as well as illustrated copies of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe he released in the 1940/50s. In addition to the Museum of Brisbane’s own collection of Bustard’s paintings, there are works from the Queensland Art Gallery, Gold Coast City Gallery and private collections also on display. Together, it makes for expansive and thorough coverage of the career of a brilliant and much loved artist.
I have come to expect that exhibitions at the Museum of Brisbane will impress. Situated atop City Hall, the museum is a true hidden treasure of the city in that very often, locals have never heard of it. Or they have, but they’ve heard ‘Museum of Brisbane’ and pictured the other museum in Brisbane, the Queensland Museum in South Brisbane.
With a relatively small but very beautiful space to work with, their team of curators and designers consistently manage to create intelligent, thoughtful exhibitions that extract the very best of Brisbane’s history. As a source of local knowledge, it tells stories otherwise missed in the narrative of our state – stories that provide layers of culture and context often assumed not to exist outside of Sydney and Melbourne. As Queensland continues to grow culturally and move beyond our reputation for being about sport and pineapples and surfboards and renegade politicians, the Museum of Brisbane will be the place to seek out the stories that resonate on a personal level. My advice is that next time you find yourself walking through King George Square, you should take a detour through City Hall and check it out.
Who knows…it might just make you as proud to be a Queenslander as the State of Origin says you should be – and you don’t even have to suffer the indignity of wearing maroon to feel it 😉