Saturday, 21 February 2015

Perennial Pleasure

I never fail to enjoy a trip to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Usually I approach it through the Domain, (the name always makes me think vaguely of Le Grand Meaulnes [is that the most pretentious thing anyone has ever said? Nevertheless, it's true - and, if you haven't read Le Grand Meaulnes, you are lucky to have such a charming, evocative book to look forward to]).

But sometimes I arrive via this exit from the Botanic Gardens:

beside which stands probably the best situated house in the whole of Sydney:
The gallery is, I assume, pure Sydney sandstone:
That is just the lefthand wing.

In the front hall, there is beautiful old terrazzo (I think that's what it's called) flooring, (unfortunately partly obliterated with a fairly ugly sculpture by that Angel of the North bloke - Gormley? Gormless, in this case, possibly [hilarious, aren't I? No, pathetic]):

and a lovely buttoned leather seat:
I usually begin by looking at the earliest Australian pictures they have, starting with John Glover:

This one is called Natives on the Ouse River and was painted in Van Diemen's land in 1838. The label explains that John Glover was already an established artist in Britain when he emigrated, aged 64, and also tells us that this, 'one of his most subjective works' was 'informed by European notions of an Antipodean Arcadia'. The image, apparently, stands in marked contrast to the actual condition of the local people, who were subject to dispossession and violence at the hands of the colonists. The details of the painting are charming - I wonder if Glover witnessed some last dying remnants of an earlier way of life; surely the whole thing did not come from his imagination. I love the difficulty he had in depicting gum trees too - he makes them look like sea creatures more than plants:

This one, the label says, is called Patterdale Farm and was painted in 1840. It is John Glover's place at Mills Plains in northern Tasmania, named after the town at the foot of Ullswater in the Lake District, close to where his home, Blowick Farm, stood (presumably his home in England). It appears that the painting reveals the painter's distinctive technique, whereby colour is applied in transparent veils, with diluted layers of oil (it is oil on canvas, should have mentioned that earlier) delicately brushed over a cream white ground.

High up on a wall I also spotted a Eugene von Guerard I'd never seen before, of the Grampians, where we went sometimes as kids and where I think my mother went often as a child, (during the war, petrol permitting, she tells me - which means they didn't go during the war):
It is called Mount Abrupt, the Grampians and was painted in 1856. For some reason the curators are surprisingly silent in their label of this von Guerard, but that doesn't matter because he painted some pictures for my family so I happen to know that he was born in Vienna and spent about fifteen years in Australia, many of those in Victoria, painting pictures for people down there. He died in London - he also spent quite a lot of time in Germany before coming to Australia, according to the label.

After Glover come Streeton and Roberts. I am fond of this painting of Redfern Station by Arthur Streeton, even though it is not like his usual subjects i.e. it doesn't include the vivid blue skies that are a part of so many of his paintings:
The label at the gallery tells us this about the painting: It is called The Railway Station, Redfern and was painted in 1893. Someone called Lady Denison very kindly gave it to the gallery as a present in 1942. (I'm afraid I might not have been so generous). It shows the Old Redfern Station, on Devonshire Street, just south of where Sydney's Central Station is now located. It was painted three years after Streeton first visited Sydney. It falls within the tradition of tonal paintings of wet urban scenes which existed alongside the nationalistic evocations of sunlight and heat in Australian painting in this period (I haven't seen any others, but one must believe the experts). His choice of a modern railway subject and his evocative approach show the influence of French and British impressionism, as well as the decorative, assymmetrical design and flattened picture plane of Japanese woodcuts. So now you know.

Here are some details of the painting - it will probably amaze some overseas readers to learn that it is possible to have a day when the sun doesn't shine in Sydney (not something the tourist board ever tells you):

Some more typical Streetons followed. This one is called From my Camp (Sirius Cove) and the label tells us was painted from a corner of the beach at Little Sirius Cove at Mosman Bay, the site of an idyllic artists' painting camp known as Curlew Camp, where Streeton stayed with Tom Roberts leading what the label writer considers 'a bohemian lifestyle ... under canvas shelters [don't most of us call those tents?] and commuting to the city by boat.' The label also includes a direct quote from Streeton himself written in 1890:

"Sydney is an artists' city - glorious - Roberts & I go to Mossman's Bay [sic] & pull through the lazy green water, & then lunch under the shade in the open air, eggs, meat, cheese & 2 big bottles of claret grown in Australia. The little Bay seemed all asleep & so very peaceful"

Those were certainly the days - and quite frankly two big bottles of claret between just two of us would have meant I'd have been all asleep, but then I am neither a man nor a painter.

This one is called 'Still glides the stream, and shall for ever glide' and was painted in 1890 at the Eaglemont Homestead near Heidelberg in Victoria, when Streeton was only 22 years old. The scene presents an idealised vision of the Yarra River with the spires of Doncaster in the middle distance and the Dandenongs beyond. The title is from Wordsworth's sonnet 'Conclusion, from a poem cycle called The River Duddon. There is then some guff about Romantic expressions of mortality, which I can supply in a plain brown paper envelope to anyone who really wants it:
Blimey this uploading lark takes ages. I had planned to romp through everything I saw at the gallery but the dinner's burning. Tom Roberts and many other things will have to wait for another afternoon when I have a bit of spare time. Probably a good thing - what did my father always say about never filling a plate too full. Perhaps the same is true of a blog post. This should be enough for one blog meal in anybody's language, surely.

To be continued.

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