The Kelly Gang – Coming Home for Christmas

11th December 2019

An Australian oil painting depicting the last stand of the notorious Kelly gang has sold at auction in Salisbury for almost £100,000.

The work by George Washington Lambert has not been available for purchase since it was first painted in 1908, and was hotly contested by Australian buyers keen to bring it home when it came under the hammer at Woolley and Wallis on 11th December.

Ned Kelly, though a convicted criminal and outlaw, has long been seen as a folk hero for some, and his exploits (and those of the members of his gang) are recorded in the Victorian folk song Ye Sons of Australia. The 1880 siege of Glenrowan was the gang’s last failed attack against the police, during which Ned was captured and his brother, Dan, and other members of the gang lost their lives.

Eschewing the obvious subject of the famed outlaw himself, the painting by George Washington Lambert instead depicts the scene from outside the Glenrowan Inn, when 17 year old Kate Kelly tried to break through the police to reach her brothers inside. In fact, the South Australian Advertiser records that it was their older sister, Margaret, who tried to get to Ned and Dan, but legend and folk song have focused on the younger and more glamorous Kate.

“The Kelly Gang have long been a popular subject for Australian artists,” said Woolley and Wallis Paintings specialist, Victor Fauvelle. “It is no surprise that the main bidders for this work were Australian, as the subject holds so much more resonance with them. I’m delighted that it will be returning to the place where it was painted and, really, to its spiritual home.”

The painting was purchased from the artist by the English anthropologist and connoisseur, Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer, who was living in Melbourne at the time. It has remained in his family to the present day and has not been offered on the market before now, although it was exhibited in Australia six times during Baldwin’s lifetime.

“George Washington Lambert was only 7 years old at the time of the siege,” said Paintings specialist at Woolley and Wallis, Victor Fauvelle, “so the painting is very much based on hearsay and legend, but in many ways that adds to its appeal. The Kelly family were seen by some as the underdogs fighting against Victorian police brutality and unfair treatment, and the idea of this young girl trying to ride to her brothers’ rescue is wonderfully romantic.”

A bank of phone bidders fought to secure the painting during the auction, driving it up from its starting price of £10,000 to a final total (including buyer’s premium) of £97,500.

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