James R. Jackson

Sydney Harbour, 1965

Mosman Art Trail Sign 4 located on cnr Burrawong Ave & Parkinsons Walk.

Listen to an audio recording, read by Claudia Karvan, to learn more about this artwork. 

Painted towards the end of his life, James Ranalph Jackson’s Sydney Harbour, a wide-angled view from a high vantage point above Taylors Bay, attests to his enduring fascination with the Sydney Harbour and its progressive urbanisation throughout his lifetime. Loosely and confidently painted, Jackson’s panoramic view sweeps over the Booraghee (Bradleys Head) promontory across Port Jackson, towards the densely-built and populated shores of Rose Bay and Point Piper. The accuracy and detail with which Jackson has painted the various boats dotted throughout this composition reveals his long-standing passion for sailing - the artist admiring the harbour from within, as well as from the sidelines. 

As a young man, Jackson benefitted from an extensive and conservative arts education, and using funds won from competitions within the Royal Arts Society, even travelled to London and studied at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. 1 After settling on the North Shore upon his return to Sydney, Jackson adopted an impressionist mode of open air painting based on rapid colour sketches and impressions of changing light and weather conditions. During this time, and buoyed by early critical acclaim, Jackson settled on a reliable format of landscape painting to which he would return time and again. Using a soft tonal range, and with a low horizon allowing a large space for cloud and weather studies, his paintings often featured a busy foreground with trees and rocks in half shadow, framing a dynamic landscape composition featuring people along a foreshore, or boats dancing in and out of the harbour’s coves.

Returning to his favourite spots along the harbour foreshore to paint the view at various times of day and years of his life, Jackson, although painting vigorously with broad brushstrokes, created a detailed and consistent record of the development of Sydney Harbour throughout the 20th century. Although more than half the composition is devoted to the swift impression of clouds and sunlight, the features of the southern Mosman shoreline are easily identifiable within this scene of Sydney Harbour.

Although the immediate foreground of this painting is dedicated to the unspoilt dense vegetation of Booraghee, Jackson also carefully includes the busy maritime interactions of an industrial harbour, the accretions of suburban apartments on neighbouring foreshores and the advances in management of the national parklands of Mosman. An area of considerable historical significance, Bradleys Head features ancient records of habitation from the Borogegal clan. 2 It was named, by colonising settlers, after a First Fleet lieutenant on its flagship HMS Sirius, and later, in the 19th century, large tracts of its land was acquired for military purposes and then later incorporated into Sydney Harbour National Park. 3 The stark white wooden railing at the base of this painting is likely the one still standing on the residential Iluka Road, on the headland known as Gooree to the Borogegal First Nations custodians of the land. The view today from this location would reveal a peaceful scene of pleasure boats moored below in Taylors Bay, just as it had done in Jackson’s day. 

1 Jackson, J., James R. Jackson. Art Was His Life, Bay Books, Sydney, 1991, p. 12 
2 Souter, G., Mosman: A History, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994,  p. 6 
3 Carment, D., ‘Bradley’s Head’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2011 [https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/bradleys_head] (accessed 30/06/23) 

Text by Lucie Reeves-Smith.

Private collection
Sotheby’s, Sydney, 16 August 1999, lot 196 
Balnaves Collection, Sydney, acquired from the above 
Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney, a gift from the above in 2011 

Photo credit Jacquie Manning

Additional Specifications

(1882 - 1975) 
oil on canvas 
49.5 x 60.0 cm 
signed lower left: James R Jackson