Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Australian Art

William Henry Margetson "The Sea Hath Its Pearls" (1897)

A recent June afternoon, a few hours to fill, in Sydney. Thought I might stop in to the NSW Art Gallery for a light lunch with a view over Woolloomooloo. On my way to the restaurant I glanced into the depths of the 19th century gallery, a place few rarely venture. Its banks of old-fashioned paintings in heavy gilt frames is a little daunting. I was astonished to find - pardon my ignorance - that the NSWAG is the home of some of the most well-known of Australian-European 19th century paintings. There followed a delightful pre-prandial hour perusing these images and recalling art lessons past...

Since this blog spends quite a bit of its time bringing your attention to European masterpieces ensconced in various northern hemisphere galleries, it's only fitting that it spend some time taking you on a mini-tour of Australia's (EU) contribution (Aboriginal Art is for another day). Quotes and information are from the gallery's labelling, which is very informative and often entertaining.

The circular Margetson picture above was purchased by the Gallery in 1897 directly from the Royal Academy exhibition where ti was shown. "The artist is now little known, thought the image has proven enduringly popular...The unconventional artist-designed frame is notable, with its carved low-relief decoration of crabs." Margetson also produced a companion piece called 'The Field Hath Its Flowers".

Tom Roberts "Bailed Up", (1895, reworked 1927)
"Tom Roberts conceived the idea of a bushranger picture while he was staying at Inverell in Northern NSW. he painted "Bailed Up' largely en plein air. It tells as much of the qualities of the local landscape as of its staged drama. Roberts superbly captures the summer heat conditions, which render to stillness the dramatic circumstances of a Cobb & Co hold-up. The scene was painted from a purpose-built platform in stringy bark tree, giving the work its high vantage point. Roberts modelled the figures on Inverell townspeople, including stage-coach driver 'Silent Bob Bates' who had been held up by local bushranger 'Captain Thunderbolt' three decades earlier." 

Tom Roberts "The Golden Fleece" (1894)

"Tom Roberts painted "The Golden Fleece" while staying at Newstead Station in the New England regin of northern NSW. It is part of a series in which Roberts paid homage to rural life and pastoral industry, and captured vanishing traditions such as the use of manual shears. Originally called "Shearing at Newstead" this painting was renamed to reference the Greek myth in which the Argonauts voyage to the end of the world in search of the Golden Fleece. The title reflects Roberts' creation of the rural worker as 'hero', and his evocation of Australia as an Arcadian land of pastoral plenty."   

Frederick McCubbin "On the Wallaby Track" (1896)
"With an evident empathy for rural labouring life, and a nationalist message, this much-admired painting by a principal member of the Heidelberg group, was painted close to the artist's Melbourne home, using his family as models. Key influences for Frederick McCubbin at this time included the academic naturalism of Bastien-Lepage and the new focus on everyday subjects by leading French Barbizon school artists Corot and Millet. The title of the painting - "on the wallaby track" - was a term used for itinerant workers roaming the bush on the fringes of properties looking for work."

Arthur Streeton "Fire's On" (1891)
"Arthur Streeton's visions of the landscape have defined an image of Australia. "Fire's On" in particular is considered his greatest ever evocation of the country's heat and sunlight. Painted a year after the artist left Melbourne for Sydney, it constitutes a radical new type of landscape in his oeuvre. Its vertical composition and the high horizon line bring focus to the steep terrain with precarious rocks and dead tree trunks. The painting captures a critical moment during the construction of a railway line across the Blue Mountains west of Sydney: the death of a railway worker in an explosion. 'Fire's on' was the warning call before the blast, as the gang dynamited the Lapstone Tunnel through the hillside. The human drama of the painting, however, is overshadowed by the heroism of the landscape itself."

Gordon Coutts "Waiting" (1895)
"Trained at the Royal Academy schools in London and Académie Julian in Paris, Gordon Coutts arrived in Melbourne and took up studies at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. He met Tom Roberts there whose influence is reflected in this portrait of a young woman seated in the waiting room of a wayside station in the bush. The model, in fact, posed inside a studio, with the background painted around her afterwards. This popular painting is the artist's most esteemed Australian work. The femininity of the sitter and her fashionable attire were trademarks of portrait and genre styles at the time."

David Davies "From A Distant Land" (1889)
""From a Distant Land" is a work from David Davies' student years and reveals the academic teaching influence of George Folingsby, art master at the national Gallery of Victoria Art School fro 1882. This firmly organised painting makes use of the most prevalent compositional device that flourished under Folingsby: from a darkened room a door opens out to the glaring sun of the Australian bush, allowing the interior narrative element to expand into the outside world." 

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