Charles H. T Costantini
Charles Henry Theodore Costantini (c.1803- 1860)
Costantini was an Australian Convict painter of portraits and landscapes. He was born in Paris c.1803. Little is known of his youth. He was tried and found guilty of ‘Larceny in dwelling house’ at the Old Bailey, London, on the 23rd of October 1822. He later stated that his offence was ‘Passing Forged Notes’.
He was transported for life to NSW aboard the Oceania in 1823 and upon arrival was assigned to Thomas Fitzherbert Hawkins of Bathurst. Less than two years later he was granted an absolute pardon by Governor Brisbane at the specific request of the visiting French navigator de Bougainville, who believed Costantini’s crime had been to force his attentions on a woman with ‘too impetuous a passion’.
Costantini left with the French expedition as the ship surgeon. On the 21st of March 1827, back in London he was tried and found guilty at the Exeter Assizes of having stolen two five pound notes from Captain Mitchell. On this occasion Costantini received an extraordinarily light sentence of seven years’ transportation.
He landed at Hobart Town aboard the Layton in October 1827, his conduct aboard the ship was described as ‘disposed to be very troublesome’
Costantini’s behaviour in Van Diemen’s Land continued to be less than exemplary and he was soon transported aboard the Prince Leopold to the secondary penal station at Macquarie Harbour. Here he apparently displayed some talent as a draughtsman. On the 12th of January 1828 Major Butler, the Commandant, wrote in a letter to the colonial secretary: ‘C.H.T.Costantini, a Frenchman, is a draughtsman of which he has given me some proofs in sketches taken at the settlement. I should wish to employ him for some time in this manner in order to afford His Excellency an idea of this station and its localities.’ Two works from this period are in the Petherick Collection (NLA), a pen and ink sketch titled ‘Macquarie Harbour’ and view of the gates residents of the pilot at Macquarie Harbour from the bar (c.1830). At Port Arthur in 1831-32 Costantini received severe punishments for insubordination and disrespectful conduct, but nevertheless gained his free certificate on the 21st of March 1834. Soon afterward he moved to Oatlands and became ‘a kind of assistant to the medical officer Dr Hudspeth’.
Costantini is best known for his portraits. On the 24th of February 1838 he advertised his ability ‘to paint portraits in the most correct style, also views and sketches of gentleman’s farms & etc.’ in the Launceston ‘Cornwall Chronicle’.
Costantini nearly always uses a low horizon to place emphasis on the meticulously detailed figures. The naive quality of his works indicates a lack of formal training.
Today Costantini works are rare and sort after as exceptional examples of naive Australian folk art. Only a number of his paintings have survived, it is estimated to be less than 60. Over 40 or so works are held in public institutions.
His work is held in the NLA, ANG, VDL Folk Museum, BFAG, and the Allport Library and Museum.
Reference: Joan Kerr; Dictionary of Australian Artists to 1870, p.174-5