Ludwig Leichhardt

A request to borrow the wax relief portrait of Ludwig Leichhardt from the Macleay collection prompted our conservator, Alayne Alvis, to look more closely at this object.

Donated to Rare Books in the 1970s and transferred to the Macleay Museum in 1990, the portrait is very similar to ones held in the State Library NSW and National Gallery of Australia. However, comparing the portraits highlighted differences around the neck.

Closer investigation of the portrait in our collection revealed that the wax had been broken at the neck. Although repaired, the two parts had been misaligned. Using an image of the State Library’s portrait as a reference Alayne was able to correct the alignment. Once the two parts were placed together correctly it was clear that there are some parts missing. Interestingly parts of the wax adjacent to the break had been deliberately removed, possibly to make the misalignment less obvious.

The frame itself appears to have been cobbled together from various unrelated components that suggest it was not framed commercially. It is a domestic object that has been well used – the velveteen frame edging is very worn and the wooden frame is soiled and shows evidence of extensive handling.

Leichhardt was part of an expedition that travelled overland from Moreton Bay to Port Essington in 1845, a journey of 4,828km. It was believed that his party had perished and when he arrived back in Sydney on 25 March 1846 he was met with great rejoicing. However, on his next expedition in 1848 he was not to return.

The original wax portrait of Leichhardt was made by Theresa Walker in 1847 at the height of Leichhardt’s fame. Such portraits would have been a very popular memento at the time.

The portrait will be on display at the Australian Museum as part of their exhibition Trailblazers: Australia's 50 great explorers from 28 November 2015 to 18 July 2016

under examination

Alayne examining the portrait