Museum of Brisbane

The mystery of the Wishart painting

George Wishart painting - Many Lives of Moreton Bay

Sitting in her lounge room watching the news one afternoon, Zarda Sands had no idea that she would see something that would shock her; something from her past that held many unanswered questions.

On the screen was Brisbane Lord Mayor Sallyanne Atkinson (in the position from 1985 – 1991) and behind her was a stunning painting of a young family enjoying a day at the beach. What was being reported was not shocking, but the painting in the background. Zarda instantly recognised it as the painting that hung in her house for at least 27 years. The family loved this painting but Zarda sold it just prior to selling her house after being told it was worth very little. The family never knew what became of it.

The artwork in question was painted in 1905 by George Wishart. It is currently part of the City of Brisbane Collection and features as part of the Museum of Brisbane’s The many lives of Moreton Bay exhibition. After spotting the painting on TV in the late 80’s, the family felt secure knowing the artwork was in safe hands. Many years went by without seeing the artwork again. Then recently, Zarda’s son Peter saw it in a newspaper article promoting The many lives of Moreton Bay and he informed his sister Christine, who knew it was time to visit an old family friend.

Christine joined Museum of Brisbane Assistant Curator Maddie Hogan on a tour of The many lives of Moreton Bay on Thursday 22 May. She submissively asked the question “what do you know of this painting?” referring to the Wishart. The painting, which is untitled, had always been a little mysterious to the Museum, who are custodians of the City of Brisbane Collection. Christine was able to fill in some gaps. She told the group the painting was of Wellington Point looking across to King Island. She also explained the reason for a ghostly-looking figure on the right-hand side. Her mother was cleaning dust off the painting one day and exposed the figure, which Wishart had clearly hidden. She tried to fix it, painting over the figure again. This is why the colour of the sand in that area is slightly different to the sand in the rest of the painting!


But the question remained, how did the artwork happen to be hung in Sallyanne’s office?
After the painting was sold by Christine’s mother, it was later gifted from the City Hall Advisory Committee to the City of Brisbane Collection in 1984. Artwork from the collection often garnishes the walls of City Hall offices and sometime while Sallyanne Atkinson was in the position of Lord Mayor, it was hung behind her desk.

The Museum of Brisbane was thrilled to have Christine visit and add to the lineage of this beautiful painting. If you have a similar story, please share it with our team.


Christine Sands with the George Wishart painting