Lot 100
  • 100


300,000 - 500,000 AUD
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  • Gordon Bennett
  • Titled, dated (1992) and signed by the artist on each panel and bears various exhibition related inscriptions and labels on the stretchers, and inscribed with date of completion 29.12.91 on the reverse of the right panel

  • Synthetic polymer paint on canvas (diptych)
  • 162 by 130 cm each panel, 162 by 260 cm overall


Painted in Paris when the artist was the recipient of the Moet et Chandon Traveling Fellowship
Bellas Gallery, Brisbane
Private collection, Brisbane


The Colour Black and Other Histories, Bellas Gallery, Brisbane, 1993
Australian Artists in Paris, Gallerie Parvi: Pour L'Art Visuel, Paris, 1992
Painting History, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide, 1993; The Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, 1994
Antipodean Currents, Guggenheim Museum Soho, New York, 1995; John F Kennedy Centre, Washington DC, 1995
TransCulture, curated by Dana Friis-Hansen, Palazzo Giustinian Lolin, Venice Biennale, Italy, 11 June  - 4 September 1995; Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum, Naoshima Island, Japan, 10 October 1995 - 18 February 1996
Breaking Borders, St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre, Manitoba, Canada, 1997
History and Memory in the Art of Gordon Bennett, Brisbane City Gallery, Brisbane, 29 July - 4 September 1999; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom, 20 November 1999 - 23 January 2000; Arnolfini, Bristol, United Kingdom, 29 January - 12 March 2000; Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo, Norway, 9 April - 12 June 2000
Cook's Sites, Museum of Sydney Sydney, 20 August - 4 December 2005; National Library of Australia, Canberra, 16 March - 18 June 2006
Queensland University Art Museum, Brisbane, on long term loan up until March 2007



Bennett, G., and I. McLean, The Art of Gordon Bennett, Craftsman House/ G + B Arts International, Sydney, 1996, p.a6, pl.19 illus.
Bennett, T., Sociology and Society, module 3, chapter 2, The Open University, United Kingdom, 2007 illus
Friis-Hansen, D., and F. Nanjo, Gordon Bennett,  Transculture: La Biennale di Venezia 1995, exh. cat, Italy: Palazzo Giustinian Lolin. 1995 illus
Hay, J., Tips on Picking a Masterpiece, The Sunday Mail, August 28 1994, p.100 illus
Jones, A., Contemporary Art Since 1945 - Fragments of Collapsing Space: Post-Colonial Theory and Contemporary Art, Blackwell, United Kingdom, 2005 illus
Lingard, R., Gordon Bennett - Painting History, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, 1993 illus
Southorn, E., Angry Art, The Courier Mail, 1993 illus
Smith, T., History and Memory in the Art of Gordon Bennett, exh. Cat, Birmingham: Ikon Gallery & Oslo: Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, 1999, p.53 illus


In excellent, clean and stable condition overall. No restoration or repairs. A small minor scuff (3 cm long) is noted on the lower left edge where the painting meets the stretcher.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This iconic appropriation of an image of the moment of the colonisation of the continent of Australia is one of a series of major 'history paintings' made by the Bennett from 1989. Each of these significant paintings revisits previous works in the artist's Ĺ“uvre, encapsulating while re-examining his concerns and themes to date. Indeed, an image of Possession Island reappears in Home Decor (Algebra) Ocean of 1998.

The image is based on a colour engraving by Samuel Calvert (1828-1913), reproduced in the Illustrated Sydney News, in December 1865, entitled Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British crown, AD 1770, from a painting by J.A. Gilfillan (1793-1864). The painting was donated by the artist to the Royal Society of Victoria in 1859 and was last mentioned in the Society's minutes in 1947. It has been missing ever since

Bennett's painting reinterprets the central section of Gilfillan's work, showing Cook raising his hat as he is about to take possession on behalf of the British Crown. Cook and his party are attended by an Aboriginal servant who is shown offering refreshments. His are the only footprints depicted, as if to imply he has purposefully intruded upon the scene. Behind the Aboriginal figure is a grid structure, a recurring motif in Bennett's work to represent the rigidity of European rationality, and a metaphor for the illusionary nature of history; just as the perspectival grid represents the European process by which three-dimensional space is rendered on a two-dimensional plane, orthodox histories of Australia 'began not with Aborigines but with the arrival of Europeans' (Bennett 1996:47)

Tellingly, the Aboriginal man is in fact the focus of the painting by dint of the fact the figure is the only one depicted clearly within the picture frame; it is painted in bold flat colour uninterrupted by either the field of dots nor the Pollock-esque drips of paint which overlay all the other figures and the ground of the painting

Each of Bennett's so-called history paintings is allegorically topical in that they tap into social forces at work within the nation (Smith 1999:17). Painted in 1991, Possession Island harks back to 1988, the official bicentenary of European settlement, and 1993 when the Mabo judgement was handed down in the High Court of Australia, for the first time recognising in law Indigenous ownership of the land prior to settlement (at the time of colonisation, Australia had been declared terra nullius). Poignantly, Bennett describes his history paintings as recontexturalising images of 'contact' as a kind of ethnographic study of the history of imagery that came to symbolise the relationship between the original inhabitants and the colonisers (Bennett 1996:43).