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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Charles Joseph La Trobe, 1853

Thomas Woolner

cast bronze relief medallion (frame: depth 5.0 cm diameter 26.6 cm)

Sculptor Thomas Woolner studied first with the brothers Henry and William Behnes and later at the Royal Academy. As a young man he was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and contributed poems to its journal, The Germ. Having failed to attract any major commissions, Woolner came to Victoria in 1852 to try his luck on the goldfields. He had some success, but was so appalled by the conditions that he returned to Melbourne and began leveraging his social connections to secure portrait commissions. One of his first Melbourne sitters was lieutenant-governor Charles Joseph La Trobe – a cousin of Woolner’s friend and prospecting companion Edward La Trobe Bateman. In 1854, his Melbourne options exhausted, Woolner went to Sydney and made portraits there, including those of William Charles Wentworth and Phillip Parker King. He cast the medallions in plaster here and then took the plaster versions back to London to be cast in bronze for shipment back to the colony. In all, he produced some 30 portrait medallions during his stay in Australia but bemoaned being unable to paint portraits, by which means he ‘might have made plenty of money in no very great time.’ After returning to England Woolner continued his portrait practice, making sculptures of sitters such as Tennyson, Carlyle, Gladstone, Darwin and Dickens among numerous others. The National Portrait Gallery in London has 21 sculptures by Woolner as well as a drawing of him by fellow Pre-Raphaelite brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti – made shortly before Woolner sailed for Australia in 1852.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2006

Accession number: 2006.77

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Thomas Woolner (age 28 in 1853)

Charles Joseph La Trobe (age 52 in 1853)

Subject professions

Government and leadership

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

The last of England 1855
The last of England 1855
The last of England 1855
The last of England 1855

Pre-Raphaelite Profile

Magazine article by Michael Desmond, 2006

In 2006 the National Portrait Gallery acquired a splendid portrait of Victoria's first governor, Lieutenant Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe by Thomas Woolner.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.