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Piguenit, William Charles (1836–1914)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

William Charles Piguenit (1836-1914), by Kerry & Co., c1900

William Charles Piguenit (1836-1914), by Kerry & Co., c1900

W L Crowther Collection, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001126073626

William Charles Piguenit (1836-1914), artist, was born on 27 August 1836 at Hobart Town and baptized on 23 September at St David's Church, eldest son of Frederick Le Geyt Piguenit (d.1886), of Huguenot stock, and his wife Mary Ann, née Igglesden. For receiving government stores his father had been sentenced to transportation for fourteen years and arrived at Hobart in the Royal George on 8 October 1830. Mary Ann, a girl of good family, followed him and after they were married on 18 February 1833 she ran a school for young ladies. In 1836 Frederick was a clerk in the Convict Department and in 1842 received a free pardon.

Educated at Cambridge House Academy, William Charles received some lessons from Frank Dunnett, a Scottish painter, and was commended for his superior drawing, mapping and penmanship. On 24 September 1850 he was appointed a draftsman in the Survey Office. In 1867 he published six lithographic plates in The Salmon Ponds and Vicinity, New Norfolk (reprinted in the Transactions of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, Hobart, 1892). In 1872 he resigned from the Survey Office to devote himself to landscape painting and in 1874 travelled on foot with J. R. Scott and R. M. Johnston to the Gordon River and painted the Arthur Range, Lake Pedder and Hell's Gates, but his paintings sold slowly until 1887 when J. W. Agnew persuaded the government to buy six of his works on the western highlands, now in the Hobart Art Gallery.

In 1875 Piguenit had moved to Sydney and contributed to exhibitions at the New South Wales Academy of Arts and held a one-man exhibition. In September he joined a group of artists at Grose Valley near Hartley Vale, where he had 'the first opportunity of illustrating our mountain scenery from the points where it can be studied to the best advantage, from the bottom of the gorges instead of the summit of the ranges'. In 1880 he settled at Lane Cove. An enthusiastic explorer, he travelled widely looking for natural scenery. He visited the Clarence River and the south coast of New South Wales and among other excursions went with James Sprent's party to the Tasmanian west coast and Lake St Clair in 1887.

In 1898 and 1900 Piguenit visited Europe and his work was included in the exhibition of Australian Art at the Grafton Galleries in London and the Paris Salon. In 1902 the New South Wales government commissioned him to paint Mount Kosciusko for £175 and £25 expenses. Unassuming and retiring, he shrank from controversy and quietly resigned from the Art Society of New South Wales when it split over the impressionist movement. The first Australian-born artist of note, he delighted in mountain scenery and often chose dramatic subjects for his painting. In 1901 one of his finest canvases, 'Thunderstorm on the Darling' won the Wynne prize, Sydney; he also won several gold medals for his careful and sensitive observation of nature.

Ten days after an appendix operation Piguenit died on 17 July 1914 at Hunter's Hill unmarried and was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1960 (Melb, 1962)
  • C. H. Currey, Mount Wilson (Syd, 1968)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Hobart), 1874 (54)
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 21 Dec 1849
  • Bulletin, 21 May 1881
  • W. V. Legge, ‘An appreciation of a Tasmanian artist’, Illustrated Tasmanian Mail, 6 May 1915
  • GO 1/34/183, 1/76/240, 33/20/761.

Citation details

'Piguenit, William Charles (1836–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 26 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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