Eugene Von Guerard
Born Austria 1811, Australia 1852-82, died England 1901
 
Spring in the valley of the Mitta Mitta with the Bogong Ranges in the distance 1863
Oil on canvas
43 x 69.0 cm
Joseph Brown Collection. NGV Melbourne
 
Von Guerard studied in Rome (visiting Naples and Sicily) and Düsseldorf with later travel studies in Europe. He came to Australia in 1852 and became one of Australia’s greatest early landscape painters. Starting out by trying his luck in the Victorian goldfields he subsequently settled in Melbourne in 1854 and there resumed his career as a painter. Von Guerard was an inveterate traveller and painted in South Australia and Tasmania as well as Victoria. His Victorian work included landscapes and commissions to paint country homesteads and properties.'  His paintings have a clearness of view and expression which makes them not only valuable as works of art but also as recordings of historical detail. He taught at the National Gallery art school before returning to Europe in 1882.
 
Spring in the valley of the Mitta Mitta shows a broad spread of treed river valley with background mountains. The light is clear and even with the sun setting behind us. All of natures devices are shown; the play of light on hill, water to irrigate the land; the majesty of raised mountains against a horizon and the last of the daylight gently painting foreground and mid-ground trees. Timeless, mighty, nature colours with light and forms the landscape with savage abruptness contrasting with gentle harmony for a grand outcome. We note the presence of humans and farmed animals but for our purposes it is the landscape in which these foreigners move that captures our attention.   
 
 


 
Harold Septimus Power
Born Dunedin 1878; died 1951
 
Beaching The Lifeboat 1900-1923
Oil on canvas
158 x 237 cm
Ballarat Fine Art Gallery
 
Power studied at the Academy Julian in Paris; 1905-7 but was largely self taught. He made a special study of the anatomy of horses and this provided the basis for a successful and popular practice where horses featured in pleasure, working and military roles. He moved to London after his Paris studies, exhibited at the Royal Academy and was appointed an official war artist to the AIF in WW1.
 
Beaching The Lifeboat throbs with effort. Six horses strain to extract the boat from the water. The lead horse on the right of the first pair takes us into the picture and our eye runs down the line of working animals as they carry out their work. The picture tells of the dignity and grandeur of labour, honest toil and the duality of man and beast; one dependent upon the other. The picture is an allegory for the virtue of work and the goodness of a working life. Each horse by instinct tries to do its best. Man in co-operation directs the effort.  Note the splendid painting of reflections in the wet sand.
 
 



 
 
Nicolas De Largillierre
Born Paris 1656; d 1746
 
Crown Prince Frederick Augustus of Saxony 1714 or 1715
Oil on canvas
135 x 103 cm
NGV (International) Melbourne
 
Largillierre was the pre-eminent French portraitist of his time. He worked in England (1674-1679) during the time of Charles the second before returning to Paris where he held posts in the Academy, being appointed Director in 1738. His pictures are characterised by a lightness of touch and high colour palette. He clearly found favour at court.
 
Frederick Augustus was Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, an important man in the courts of 18th century Europe. Largillierre has painted him in full battle order, armoured and complete with helmet and weapons. He stands the full height of the picture, dominating the landscape and imposing his monumentality on a confused sky-scape, helmet plumes flutter in motion. Here is imposed grandeur. In a time when most could not read, portraits of nobility helped cement the social order. Illiterate subjects seeing this portrait would quickly understand that their Elector or King was a vastly different person to themselves, clearly their better and clearly in charge.
 
 



 
 
Umberto Boccioni
Italian Born 1882; d 1916
 
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space 1913
Bronze cast
111 x 88.5 x 40 cm
Museum of Modern Art New York
 
Boccioni was an important member of the Italian Futurist movement.  The Futurists advocated a complete break with the past. Art would be dominated by speed, violence, machinery and all things modern. Gone were moderation and subtlety. Museums, galleries, libraries and great collections should be destroyed as they invoked times now dead. Modern man had no use for legacy; art was now all about force and movement. 
 
In “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” Boccioni renders space, movement and time into a single figure. Striding forward, the androgenous body ripples outward, thrusting with raw energy into the observer’s space. This is a very intrusive work imposing the doctrine of progress as expressed by speed, energy and radical thought: exhilaration was to be the pre-eminent emotion from now on. A somewhat perverted grandeur sprang from the cleansing of all things past and the excitement of building anew. Ironically Boccioni was killed when he fell from his (old-fashioned) horse during service in the Italian army during WW1.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini
Italian (1598-1680), 1599-1667)
 
Baldachin 1599-1667
St Peters Basilica; Vatican
 
St Peters Basilica attracted the greatest architects working in Renaissance Italy. Bramante, Michelangelo, Bernini and Borromini all made contributions. The great baldachin standing over the Papal Altar in the nave of St Peters is the largest and heaviest bronze work in the world; it is positioned directly above the tomb of St Peter.  Only the Pontiff can celebrate mass at the Papal Altar though he can have con-celebrants. Here is the grand centre of Roman Catholic worship.
 
Despite its huge size and weight the Baldachin appears to float upon the floor of the nave largely because of the elegant fluted columns which have the effect of diffusing its solidity and the flying volutes at the top which appear to be lifting the structure up. The altar sits directly under the dome is most spectacularly revealed when the observer enters by the southern, western entrance. From there the eye travels up the nave to the altar, the columns and ceiling of the Baldachin framing a holy space. To the east (behind the Papal Altar) is The Altar of the Cathedral also designed by Borromini. The bronze for the ceiling of the baldachin was taken from the roof of the Pantheon.
 
 


 
 
Jean Francois Millet
Born Gruchy, France 1814; died Barbizon, France 1875
 
The Angelus
1857-1859
Oil on canvas
55.5 x 66.0 cm
Musee d Orsay Paris
 
Millet helped begin the transition from Traditionalism in painting (looking back to Greek and Roman art) to Modernism (i.e. late 19th century art onwards). His pictures contain strongly classical elements still, but infused with a realism to which viewers could easily relate. He painted mostly pictures of working people, drawing some controversy from conservative members of French society but plaudits from those more socialistically inclined in a country still trying to heal itself from revolution. He trained in France and spent the latter part of his life in the Barbizon district where the Barbizon School of painters had come together in the 1840s. Millet and the Barbizon School painters had considerable influence on the development of Impressionism and Post Impressionism.
 
Two peasants stand, heads bowed as the Angelus bells ring out across the field in which they are working. Their dignified observance of this moment lends gravity and importance both to them and to their labour: the fading light and silence of the landscape add to their introspective humanity and religiosity. Here are two common people in majesty, communing with Their Lord and Nature.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Jan Davidsz de Heem
Netherlands 1606-1683/4
 
Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase 1675-80
Attributed to de Heem
Oil on copper
54.5 x 36.5
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
 
De Heem painted vibrant, opulent still-life pictures. He also painted large table settings celebrating Flemish lifestyle in colour and arrangement. He began painting in Antwerp where his pictures reflected steady, Protestant ethics and the opulence observed in the present picture only emerged when he travelled and settled further north. His sumptuous pictures represent the culmination of Flemish still-life painting.
 
Although a still life this picture actually teams with life. Insects inhabit leaves, stems, trunks and flutter colourfully around the blooms reminding us that the flowers were once alive and reinforcing the spontaneity of the composition. A yellow snail painstakingly climbs on to the table at the lower right, balancing the yellow grain head on its left and anchoring the composition to the table. The flower colours largely compliment one another, delicate changes of shading leading the eye from one flower to the next. Bright colours define the picture space. A reflection of the light-admitting window can be seen in the vase. Deterioration can be seen in the colour of the once yellow roses in the top, left centre of the composition. Here is nature on a reduced, but grand scale. Colour, shape and composition resolve to give us a living, moving picture of nature’s bounty.
 
 
 

 
 
David Hockney
English, Born 1937
 
Garrowby Hill 1998
Oil on Canvas
152 x 193 cm
Museum of Fine Arts Boston
 
Hockney came to prominence as a “Pop” artist, i.e. an artist who used all the modern techniques at his disposal; printmaking, photography, painting, drawing etc. He has used these devices to produce large-scale pictures, etchings, and stage designs for both opera and ballet. As a painter working both in California and around his native Yorkshire he has produced landscapes, portraits and outdoor views of sophisticated, glamorous Los Angeles pool-sides redolent with athletic young men. His compositions are adventurous and slashed with colour. He is an arch social-commentator and this lends authority to his portraiture and imbues his landscapes with much more than just pictorial content.
 The swirling rhythms in Garrowby Hill are the result of multiple perspective points and the use of bright colour patches to attract our eye. Starting from the red ploughed paddock on the left our eye sweeps down the road pausing here and there to take in the work of man imposed on the landscape. We finally unload in a great rush on to a patchwork of fields and boundary hedges which takes us to the high horizon.  Clouds anchor the top of the picture. The composition has immense depth helped by the focussing hill on the right with its bright tree trunks. Here is the grandeur of nature but tamed by man with his roads and agriculture. Even so nature has the last word with her colours and fading distances.
 
 



 
 
Vincent Van Gogh
Dutch, 1853-1890. Worked in France from 1886
 
The Starry Night 1889
Oil on canvas
73 x 91 cm
Museum of Modern Art New York
 
Van Gogh was a tortured soul. Beginning his working life as an apprentice art dealer in The Hague he became a teacher in England before working in his native Holland as a Lay Preacher. In 1880 he resolved to become a painter of working-class people and their activities following, particularly, the style of Millet. He enjoyed a singular lack of success commercially as an artist and it is likely that he did not sell a major picture during his lifetime. Much of his work ended up with his art-dealer, elder brother Theo who financed much of Van Gogh’s working life. 
Many of Van Gogh’s better-known pictures were painted after he moved to Paris in 1886. Influenced by the modern painters around him he studied colour theory and began to work more freely with both colour and composition. The result was a startling output which put him in the forefront of the avant-garde in Paris at the time, though again with conspicuous lack of commercial success. A front-runner in the development of expressionistic styles of painting-where the artist expresses his feelings in the picture and invites us to “feel” the effect of the picture as well as simply look at it-he was the very essence of the modern painter at the turn of the 20th century. Weighed down by feelings of worthlessness because of the failure of his works to sell and having argued with Gauguin-with whom he was sharing a house in the south of France-and also with Theo, Van Gogh famously severed his earlobe before being hospitalised in 1889 for treatment of his mental illness. Leaving hospital and the south of France he moved nearer to Paris and continued painting the highly expressionistic, colourful and powerful pictures which are so well received today. On July the 27th 1890 he shot himself in the chest and died two days later. The tragedy of Van Gogh’s life is that his pictures now receive the acclamation he knew within himself they deserved.
 
Starry night is a tour-de-force of expressionist picture making. The moon- almost as bright as the sun- throws a radiance on the landscape while scattered stars revolve as they compete. Illuminated clouds swirl across the sky taking our eye from left to right up the hillside. Two verticals relieve the massive horizontal, upward motion: a vibrating tree on the left and a church spire secure the connection of sky to earth. Humans live conspicuously under this maelstrom of colour, the quiet, harmonious array of lighted buildings contrasting with the turbulence above. Nature is the grander. Only she could produce the colour and movement in the heavens with no apparent effort.
 




 
Fred Williams
Australia, 1927-82
 
Dark Hillside 1967 (dated 1964)
Oil and tempera on canvas
180 x 133 cm
NGV (A) Melbourne: Joseph Brown Collection
 
When Fred Williams’ life was cut tragically short by cancer at the age of 55 Australia lost its most innovative landscape painter. He studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne before moving to London to study at the Chelsea Art School (1951-6). Best known in Melbourne for his print work, notably etchings, before going to London, Williams began painting in an essentially post-impressionist style before moving on at the end of the ‘50s to the more stylised, expressionistic work by which he was to become best known. Australian landscape shape and its restricted colour palette provided him with the means to produce sparse landscapes where shape is emphasised and colour appears on both large and small scale. Williams’ dots and flecks contain all the colours of the landscape he has painted for us. Water and its after effects feature strongly in his painting and landscape elements are often projected against a clear Australian sky. Williams reduces the landscape to its basic shapes and colours distorting perspective if that suits the work in hand.
 
 
Dark Hillside is a typical example of Williams’ understated way of rendering the majesty of Australian landscape. A hill swoops away and down to the left confusing our habit-influenced eye which expects pictures to unfold from left to right. Slammed against the sky it leaves us momentarily uncertain as to how to make our way into the picture but we soon follow the tree-line down and forwards then up again through the flatter spot at the top right. Much later we see the water defining the horizon and providing in its reflection the sense of the land out past the immediate subject. Trees dead and living populate the slope and provide a vertical fabric for the composition. Colour subtly spots around the picture highlighting vegetation here, the land there and the subdued, harmonious sky is an opposite for the dramatic land. Williams has invoked the power of the landscape by deleting all but the essentials. He leaves us with the intellectual problem of interpreting his reductions which in no way make the landscape any simpler.
 
 

 
 
Kasimir Malevich
Russian, 1878-1935
 
The Red Cavalry Riding, 1928-32
Oil on canvas
46 x 37 cm
State Museum St Petersburg
 
Not too much about Mr Malevich here as we will be meeting him again under the heading “Revolution”
 
Meanwhile note the grandeur of the abstracted landscape in the picture and the urgency (and grandness) with which the Cavalry rush off to defend the homeland.