Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Isaac Walter Jenner (1837–1902)

by Margaret Maynard

This article was published:

Isaac Walter Jenner (1837-1902), artist, was born on 18 March 1837 at Brighton, Sussex, England, son of Thomas Jenner, blacksmith, and his wife Harriet, née Walter. Without known formal education, he worked on oyster and crab smacks and signed on for a voyage in Arctic waters. In March 1855 he joined the Royal Navy, serving during the Crimean War in the Black Sea and in H.M.S. Retribution at the Dardanelles. In 1864 he was present at the bombardment of Shimonoseki, Japan. Discharged in 1865, he learned to paint and worked as a landscape and marine painter in 1873-79 at Brighton and at Hove in 1880-83; he exhibited at Brighton, Lewes and once at the Royal Academy. After trouble with picture dealers, he decided to migrate and reached Brisbane by R.M.S. Roma on 19 September 1883.

Jenner made a living by selling paintings, holding art unions and teaching at Miss O'Connor's School, Oxley, and at the Brisbane Technical College in 1887-89. Although he travelled in New South Wales and New Zealand in 1889, he exhibited only in Brisbane and at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1888-89 in Melbourne. He had helped to found the Queensland Art Society in 1887. He considered Brisbane lacking in taste and civilized pursuits and he felt unrecognized by the art world, even to the extent of victimization. For this reason, perhaps, he moved his studio in 1890 to Montrose Road, Taringa. There he lived and worked for the rest of his life.

A self-taught marine and landscape painter of considerable ability and technical skill, Jenner painted much local scenery but continued all his life to paint English scenes from memory. His most popular subjects were the Sussex and Cornish coasts and large historical seascapes, such as his 'H.M.S. Agamemnon in the Great Gale in the Black Sea, October 14th 1854', shown at the Queensland International Exhibition of 1897. In 1895 he gave one of his large seascapes, 'Cape Chudleigh, Labrador' (1890) to the Queensland National Gallery soon after its opening.

Stylistically, Jenner was steeped in the romantic English landscape tradition with a strong preference for dawns and sunsets. He in fact taught oil and crayon drawings (sunsets) as his special subject at the Brisbane Technical College. His own art jottings underline his interest in picturesque subjects and the importance he attached to light and harmony. His 'Precept for a Painter' has, in parts, strong Ruskinian leanings. Although his contribution to art in Brisbane was considerable, his claim to be the founder of art in the colony was at least dubious. He died at Taringa on 1 March 1902 and was buried in Toowong cemetery. He was survived by his wife Mary, née Jenkins, whom he had married on 23 May 1860 at Anthony, Cornwall, and by three sons and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Art and Australia, 15 (Winter 1978), no 4, p 393
  • Jenner papers (Queensland Art Gallery)
  • ADM 139/195 (National Archives of the United Kingdom).

Citation details

Margaret Maynard, 'Jenner, Isaac Walter (1837–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 March, 1837
Brighton, Sussex, England


1 March, 1902 (aged 64)
Taringa, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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