Farquhar McCrae & The Burning of Troy: The Search for a Lost Masterpiece & the Appreciation of the Fine Arts in Colonial Australia
For nearly 180 years, between the early nineteenth and early twenty-first century, many art historians believed that Federico Barocci’s 1589 masterpiece variously titled Aeneas and his family fleeing Troy or simply The Burning of Troy, was last seen in London at an auction of paintings from the Orléans Collection in February 1800. We know what the painting looked like, and why it was created, and we know the details of the journey taken by the painting: from Italy to Prague; from Prague to Sweden; from Sweden back to Italy; then to France and to London. But for most who have written about the painting it disappeared from public sight after the auction of February 1800.
This is the story of how the painting in fact was not lost after the 1800 auction but was sold on several more occasions and went from London to Scotland and ultimately ended up in Australia where it was exhibited by Dr Farquhar McCrae. Upon McCrae’s death the painting passed to Solicitor, Hugh Chambers, who exhibited it in Melbourne. It was then acquired by wealthy pastoralist Edward Hogg.
This is also the story of Farquhar McCrae whom many readers will have encountered as the brother-in-law of the perhaps better-know Georgiana McCrae, whose journal depicting life in Melbourne during the 1840s is well known. While Georgiana’s journal depicts a life hoping to emulate the gentile society of her homeland in the rough and ready pioneer settlement of early Melbourne, Farquhar McCrae led a life in which self-assurance is often pitted against the ambitions and strong personalities of those he encountered. Constantly doing battle with chronic ill-health, McCrae’s ownership of valuable artworks undoubtedly reinforced his desire to become part of colonial Australia’s elite society, members of which were among his neighbours and associates.
This story is not a mere list of dates and facts documenting a sequence of auctions and the sellers and buyers who traded in art works. They are the mere dots of history. The data points. And in joining those data points this story narrates the journey taken by Barocci’s lost painting. During the search, like Alice following the White Rabbit, we encounter clues that entice us to enter pathways that sometimes turn out to be dead ends. And, at the end of the journey, we may, or may not, have found the treasure we seek, but, either way, we can look back at the journey with a sense of great reward.
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Federico Barocci, Aeneas and his Family Fleeing the Burning City of Troy, Oil on Canvas, 1598, Borghese Gallery, Rome
Purchase this book: Douglas Wilkie, Farquhar McCrae & The Burning of Troy, Historia Incognita 2021, ISBN: 9781006788840, 480 pages, illustrated throughout.
The softcover book of 480 pages with extensive colour illustrations is available for purchase online here for approximately $40 AUD.
An instantly downloadable PDF version of the book, readable on all PCs, Laptops, Tablets, or eBook readers is also available from the same site for about $15 AUD.
A preview of the book pages is available on the sales site.
It is anticipated that the book will be made available through worldwide online bookstores such as Amazon, Bookdepository, Booktopia, and others in the near future.