Roger Blackley

Stray Leaves: Colonial Trompe L’Oeil Drawings

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This book reveals a fascinating category of colonial still life painting: one that spurned fruit and flowers in order to celebrate the trivia of everyday life.

These trompe l’oeil or illusionistic watercolours present apparently casual arrangements of objects, arrayed on tables or desktops and reproduced as realistically as possible— – drawings, newspapers, printed ephemera, playing cards, letters, envelopes, blotting papers, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, matches, coins, banknotes, and cheques – —even in one case a lit cigar.

Although a popular colonial form— – they were toured around and exhibited to paying viewers— – these artworks are little known today. This book reproduces ten surviving examples from art galleries in New Zealand and Australia.

The masterpiece (which is on the cover) is William Gordon'’s large 1878 watercolour Stray Leaves, which presents over 70 items strewn over an ‘Untidy Man'’s Table’. Among them is a caricature of a postman delivering a letter: Gordon'’s self-depiction as a clerk in the Telegraph Office.

At once witty self-portrait and rich social history, these marvellous artworks will be enjoyed as much today as they were when the paint was fresh. This book accompanied the exhibition Stray Leaves at the Adam Art Gallery, 27 February–29 April 2001.

'Messy desks with a difference . . . trompe l’oeil paintings fascinate and appeal.' —Otago Daily Times

'Blackley's attractive paperback is a welcome addition to the existing literature, which has hitherto neglected this small but fascinating corner of the colonial artistic domain.' —Ann McEwan, Waikato Times

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