Australian Art

W C Piguenit - Fame By Association? by Geoff Harrison

Considered Australia's first native born significant artist, William Charles Piguenit was born in Hobart in 1830, the son of a convict who was transported to Van Dieman's Land.  He is also considered the last true Romantic landscapist, preferring to focus on the dramatic moods in landscape as opposed to the Heidelberg School who presented Australia as an amiable sunny land.

 The Upper Nepean 1889

The Upper Nepean 1889

 The Flood Of The Darling   1895

The Flood Of The Darling   1895

The above oil on canvas was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales immediately after it's completion.

 Mt Ida, Lake St Clair

Mt Ida, Lake St Clair

Piguenit appears to be largely self taught, and of particular interest to me is his background as a draughtsman with the Department of Lands survey office in Tasmania.  So I'll claim fame by association as my background is as a draughtsman with the Victorian Lands Department.

The Lost Forests Of Gippsland by Geoff Harrison

Apparently much of Gippsland once looked like this scene, painted by Isaac Whitehead circa 1870.  The title of this oil is "A Sassafras Gully, Gippsland", and in Whitehead's time large areas of Gippsland were heavily timbered including massive mountain ash rivalling the redwoods of California.  But lumbering was well underway, hence the bullock train hauling split timber depicted in the lower left.  Photographer Nicholas Caire became popular in the late 19th century with his Gippsland views.  He warned that Gippsland's big trees were in danger of becoming things of the past if harvesting continued unabated.

I have an issue with the scale of this work.  To me the ferns seem far too large in relationship to the mountain ash and the bullock train.

Sounds Of Silence by Geoff Harrison

H J. Johnstone specialized in peaceful evening riverside scenes in the 19th century.  The painting below depicts the Murray River in South Australia in 1880.  Johnstone's strong background in photography is evident in the stillness and precision of the painting.  The subtle colour gradations is what impresses me as well as the stillness.  Apparently aboriginal campsites along river banks were becoming increasingly rare by the 1880's due to pastoralists  and government policy of herding them into settlements for "Christian education".

 Evening Shadows, Backwater of the Murray, South Australia 1880    121 cm x 180 cm

Evening Shadows, Backwater of the Murray, South Australia 1880    121 cm x 180 cm

"Evening Shadows" was the first acquisition by the Art Gallery of South Australia of a painting of an Australian subject.

 Twilight, River Goulburn Victoria 1878

Twilight, River Goulburn Victoria 1878

Strange as it may seem, these works were painted in London on commission.  Johnstone, who was born in Birmingham in 1835, came to Australia to  prospect on the Victorian goldfields in 1853.  He returned to the UK via California in 1876.

 The Billabong  1876

The Billabong  1876

The Other Pro Hart by Geoff Harrison

Bill Leak's wonderful portrait of Pro Hart who died in 2006.

I must admit that I grew rather weary of Pro Hart and his blokey, outback scenes with their garish colours.  But there was another Pro Hart who produced some remarkable abstract and semi abstract paintings in earlier years.

 Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers

 Construction

Construction

Many thanks to artist John Adam for making me aware of Hart's earlier work.  Perhaps in later years Pro Hart became a victim of his own success.  I once made the mistake of driving up to Broken Hill with a friend and at every turn we were confronted by his imagery or that of local hangers on.   It fair drove us nuts.