Charles Rodius (1802–1860) was one of a number of artists whose Australian careers commenced in convictism. Born in Germany, Rodius had spent several years in Paris where he studied and worked as a teacher of ‘music, painting, drawing and languages in families of the first distinction’. He then went to England where, in early 1829, he was convicted of stealing a lady’s handbag and sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for seven years. On arrival in Sydney, Rodius was immediately employed as an architectural draughtsman and drawing teacher by the Department of Public Works. He also gave drawing lessons to children of prominent residents of Sydney. Such social connections, combined with his urbanity and talent, had the effect of tempering his anomalous convict status and Rodius secured the patronage of many of the settlement’s citizens. Some of these patrons supported Rodius in his application for exemption from government service and when this was granted in 1832 he began to earn an independent living as an artist. While he also created landscapes or ‘views’, portraiture formed the most substantial part of Rodius’s output and his work in the genre resulted in a vivid record of the character of colonial Sydney. His sitters came from within the ranks of the law, politics and business as well as from the trade, landowning and ex-convict sectors of society. Many of his portraits – typically executed in pencil, charcoal and pastel, or ‘French crayon’ – were also issued as lithographs, such as his 1846 likeness of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt; and his portraits of Aboriginal people from the Sydney, Broken Bay and Shoalhaven districts, created in the 1830s and 1840s. Rodius received his certificate of freedom in 1841 by which time he was a successful artist. After two short- lived marriages – the first, in 1834, to a seamstress named Maria Bryant; and the second to Harriet Taylor, who died in 1838 – Rodius made his third in 1841 to Harriet Allen, the daughter of another ex-convict artist, Josiah Allen. Long rumoured to exist but concealed from the notice of art historians in the private collection of a descendant, this self portrait is held by family lore to have been made by Rodius to kill time while Harriet gave birth to their daughter, Theresa, in an adjoining room. In 1856, Rodius suffered a stroke that left him partly paralysed and unable to continue working as an artist. He died in April 1860, aged fifty-eight.


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