Alexander Schramm was the leading oil painter in the colony of South Australia during the mid nineteenth century. He had an established reputation in Germany before emigrating to South Australia in 1849. He painted portraits of colonists, but most of his creative energy was devoted to depicting the Indigenous people of South Australia with great sympathy at a time when Europeans were destroying Indigenous tribal life. Schramm was also the first South Australian artist to depict the distinctive red river gum trees.
Adelaide, a tribe of natives on the banks of the river Torrens is Schramm’s largest known painting. It shows the Kaurna people, and possibly other local people, sheltering under characteristic straggly gums in Adelaide parkland. The narrative detail in this work is striking. Schramm depicted the Indigenous people dressed in shabby European cast-off clothing and engaged in activities from their daily life: sitting together in groups conversing, cooking over camp fires, interacting with pets (such as the young child riding a dog in the left-hand corner of the work) and climbing trees. The scene is bathed in a warm golden light.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008