Neville Cayley / England/Australia 1853–1903 / Australian wild birds 1889 / Watercolour and gouache over pencil on wove paper / 77.8 x 129cm / Gift of Mrs J Cowlishaw 1897 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Neville Cayley
Australian wild birds 1889

Not Currently on Display

Neville Cayley painted this still life at ‘Bonavista’ in Bowral, New South Wales, in 1889. It took him seven days to complete it.

The birds across the top are in male–female pairs of mountain ducks (shell ducks) and maned geese (wood ducks). Across the lower ledge are the banded plover, painted snipe, masked lapwing, Australian snipe, Eastern rosella, grey teal, black duck, male regent bower bird, and stubble quail. The cartridges are for a 12-gauge shotgun. The artist rendered the texture and colour of even the smallest feathers in meticulous detail.

Neville Cayley was born in Dover, England, the son of a naval captain. He left the navy to come to Australia, and was awarded a gold medal at the Chicago Exposition of 1892 for his paintings of Australian birds.

His drawings illustrate Alfred J North’s Nests and Eggs of Birds Found Breeding in Australia and Tasmania (Sydney, 1901) — one of the great classics of ornithological literature. Cayley inspired many European settlers to take an interest in Australia’s native birds.

Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think the artist chose these particular birds to paint?

2. Analyse Cayley’s arrangement of wild birds and think about what this could be communicating to viewers.

Classroom Activities

1. Create a slogan to send a powerful environmental message to motivate change.

2. Using specimens from the science department, thoughtfully arrange them to then make careful observational drawings, adding watercolour and gouache.