The born son of the Austrian counsel to England in 1801, Conrad Martens is most widely known as an artist-explorer who served onboard the South American Exposition ship BEAGLE alongside of naturalist Charles Darwin. His original 1833-35 sketches led to painting commissions for more than 40 years.
Fate and opportunity collided to make Martens an artist still known in the 21st Century. After ten years of coastal sketching tours of Great Britain, including studying art with watercolorist Copley Fielding, he sailed onboard HYACINTH out of Plymouth. After several ports, in Rio de Janeiro, Martens heard that artist Augustus Earle had taken ill and there was a vacancy onboard BEAGLE. He sailed to Montevideo in July 1833 to join the crew. Within six months the ship had visited Port St. Julian, Port Famine, Tierra del Fuego and Port Louis on East Falkland Island. Accompanied by the Rescue Ship ADVENTURE, they sailed the Straits of Magellan and landed at Valparaiso, Chile on July 31, 1834. ADVENTURE was sold, and several crew positions were no longer viable, including onboard artist.
After a stay in Chile, he sailed on PERUVIAN with J.M. Rugendas in December 1834 and stayed for 3 months in Tahiti and Morrea, exploring extensively and staying with the few established Western residents. He then caught a cruise to New Zealand, and arrived in Sydney on April 17, 1835. His letter of introduction from Captain Fitzroy secured him a patron and friend in Australia, where he would set-up his studio, marry and settle down. Darwin came to visit the following year, and he and Captain Fitzroy commissioned several paintings of the locales he had visited, and they took works back to London to exhibit in the Royal Society of British Artists.
Martens would develop Australian patrons for the next 20-plus years, as well as furthering his art instruction alongside Marshall Claxton, who broadened Martens palette and technical touches. In this period he would exhibit in Australia at the Victorian Fine Arts Society and at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1855, and began taking pupils as well. In 1862 he would hear from Darwin again, and paint several commissions to mark the popularity of his “Origins of the Species” book. He would continue to paint as he accepted a position within the Australian Parliamentary Library, including several large public works from national galleries in Victoria and New South Wales.
Two of Martens original voyage sketchbooks are held in the collection of the Cambridge University Library, and most of his paintings are held in public collections.