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The Scarvell Family Portraits

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A colonial oil portrait of a balding man with grey hair, wearing a suit - a white bird sits on his hand.

DURATION: 3mins 20secs

John Redmond Barnes Scarvell, 1855
by Richard Noble
purchased 1999
ML 1194

Oil painting of a woman wearing a lace collar, elaborate gold brooch with curls arrange on either side of her face.

Portrait of Sarah Scarvell (nee Redmond), 1855
by Richard Noble
oil on canvas
acquired 2010
ML 1251

Oil painting of a woman wearing a red gown with lace trim and a three chain gold necklace with crucifix.

Elizabeth Mary Scarvell, 1855
by Richard Noble
oil on canvas
ML 1195

Oil portrait of a black haired woman wearing a gold necklace and white lace gown.

Sarah Scarvell, 1855
by Richard Noble
oil on canvas
acquired 2004
ML 1339

Oil portrait of a man wearing a black suit with high white collar.

John Redmond Barnes Scarvell, 1855
by Richard Noble
oil on canvas
acquired 1999
ML 1194

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Executive Director, Library and Information Services and Dixson Librarian

Richard Noble was an accomplished and sophisticated portraitist. He understood the conventions of portraiture, of pose, clothing expression and background. These five portraits of the Scarvell family are part of a suite of eight, commissioned by John Larkin Scarvell and all painted by Noble in 1855.

Over the course of that year, Noble lived in the Scarvell home, Clare House, in Windsor, and completed individual portraits of John and Sarah and their elder six children. Three of the children are seen here. This was Noble’s first commission and the largest multi-portrait known in colonial era Australia.

The Scarvell family portraits are a powerful statement of colonial success and aspiration. Clearly a prosperous and successful family, Noble’s beautiful suite of portraits obscures the family’s convict origins. Sarah brought wealth to her marriage, her husband brought respectability, influence and power, for Australian-born Sarah was the daughter of Irish Catholic convicts. Her parents, Edward Redmond, an Irish rebel, and Winifred, had each been transported for life to New South Wales. Pardoned by 1809, the industrious Redmonds became wealthy land owners with diverse business interests.

In 1828, Sarah Redmond married John Larkin Scarvell, a captain with the East India Company trading in the Pacific. Scarvell’s first wife, Isabella, had died at sea in January of the same year. John and Sarah settled in Windsor and lived in Clare House, built for them by Sarah’s father. They had children. Eight survived infancy.

The marriage of the daughter of wealthy Irish Catholic emancipists to a respectable free man completed the family’s rise from convict to respectability in one generation.

So the Scarvell portraits are aspirational. John Redmond Barnes Scarvell was John and Sarah’s second son. Their first-born child, another son, had died at sea in 1829, aged five months. John Redmond died aged 25 and unmarried, the year this portrait was painted. Sarah Scarvell, in the white dress, was the Scarvells’ sixth child and first daughter. She was 18 when she sat for this portrait. She married her brother-in-law, Alfred John Cape, 16 years later in 1871. 15-year-old Elizabeth Mary Scarvell, in red, married William Frederick Cape in 1863.

Noble’s portraits are particularly impressive for his fine delineation of faces, his attention to detail in clothing, fabrics, lacing, ribbons and jewellery, seen to great effect in the portraits of Elizabeth and her sister Sarah.

These five portraits are from a suite of eight. Brothers Sidney, George and Edward Augustus Scarvell also sat for Richard Noble in 1855. Their portraits are not part of the library’s collection.