Martha Berkeley

Martha Berkeley (1813- 1899)

The Chauncy sisters, Martha Berkeley and Theresa Walker, were South Australia’s first professional artists. They arrived from Britain at the site of the colony’s capital Adelaide, on 10th February 1837, six weeks after the proclamation of the province in 1836.

Both sisters were London trained miniature portraitists. Berkeley’s teacher was probably the French portrait painter Pierre Mejanel.  They were serious artists, who exhibited at the most prestigious exhibition venue in the British Empire, The Royal Academy. In Adelaide the sisters presented works at the first exhibition held in the colony in 1847 alongside works by S.T. Gill, George Hamilton and John Michael Skipper. Berkeley showed seventeen works, including portraits and landscapes.

Martha Berkeley produced some of South Australia’s most important early colonial works of art. Her known paintings are predominantly South Australian portraits or landscapes of the area surrounding Adelaide.

Berkeley was probably the first Australian woman to paint works that recognised and integrated the indigenous people in the landscape. South Australia at the time took pride in a compassionate stance towards the local indigenous population, having developed specific legislation for their protection. Unfortunately these good intentions were overtaken by colonial expansion.