23 July – 9 August 2020
about the exhibition
Nicola Dickson is a Canberra-based artist whose practice explores the natural world and perceptions of identity with particular reference to Australia’s colonial history. Her recent work is inspired by part of the Baudin collection acquired by Napoleon’s wife, the Empress Joséphine, for her country residence, the Château Malmaison. In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte approved a voyage of exploration led by Nicolas Baudin to journey from France to Australia. More than 100,000 specimens, living and dead, of plants, insects, birds and animals were collected and many were drawn by the artists aboard, who also made sketches and paintings of the indigenous people they encountered. From 1800, until her death in 1814, Joséphine expanded and developed the Château’s grounds while amassing an extraordinary collection of plants and animals. During a 2017 residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, Nicola had the opportunity to explore the Malmaison collection and historic archives detailing the specimens taken there. “My drawings and paintings try to convey a sense of the past ‘presences’ I felt of those birds and plants transported from Australia. The bird species I have depicted are those found in historical illustrations. Their silhouettes frame drawings I made from my photographs of Malmaison’s grounds. Other drawings are based on porcelain busts of Napoleon and Joséphine or sketches done by Nicolas-Martin Peit of Tasmanian indigenous peoples. In each case the subject is decoratively combined with plant forms to reflect different contexts from which they were viewed. My paintings manipulate colour and form to attempt to convey my imagining of past stories embedded within this extraordinary place.”
Nicola Dickson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the School of Art at the Australian National University in 2003 before undertaking a PhD which she completed in 2010. She has exhibited widely since graduating and, in 2013, was a finalist in the Sulman Prize and, in 2013 and 2014, received a Highly Commended in the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize. Nicola’s work was included in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition ‘So Fine: Contemporary women artists make Australian history’ in 2018 and is represented in the collections of the Canberra Museum & Gallery and Parliament House.