A painting by a leading Australian colonial artist has surfaced at auction in New Zealand.

Bird's Nest by English-born animal and landscape painter William Dexter was first exhibited at the Victorian Society of Fine Arts in 1857.

The striking 218 x 330mm watercolour, signed and inscribed "Sydney", where the artist authenticated it, was also shown at the National Gallery of New South Wales as part of Australia's 150th anniversary celebration in 1938.

Now, it will go under the hammer at Cordy's Auctioneers in Auckland on February 16.


Auctioneer Andrew Grigg described Bird's Nest as an "important work" by a "much sought-after" Australian colonial artist. It has an estimate of $10,000 to $12,000.

William Bull Dexter was born in England in 1817.

He learned his craft at the Derby china factory, which later became the Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company, painting birds and flowers in the Chinese and Japanese styles.

Heavily influenced by his training, Dexter then studied in Paris, returning to England in 1843 to marry Caroline Harper.

In 1852, he sailed aboard the ship Bank of England to Australia where he taught at Lyndhurst College, Glebe.

A year later, Dexter travelled to the Bendigo goldfields where he designed the diggers' flag.

In 1854, his wife joined him in Australia and the following year, the Dexters launched a gallery of the arts and school of design in Bathurst St, Sydney, where he taught painting and drawing.

But the venture failed and the pair separated three years later. Dexter became a partner in a sign-writing business before dying in 1860.

His work is represented in most of the leading Australian galleries.