There are few of us who aren’t attracted to the sea and amongst the first on our Australian beaches were the artists, lining up to paint even before people thought of going swimming. Actually it was illegal to swim in Australian waters during the day until 1902! If you were willing to risk being eaten by a shark you could swim at night. I digress as this has nothing to do with painting.
Let’s start with a couple of early impressions of the fledging town of Melbourne, Victoria established in 1837. I found a painting done in 1843 by WFE Liardet which must count amongst the earliest but unfortunately I wasn't able to copy it. However I found this lovely watercolour Liardet did of his Beach and hotel at Brighton.
Click here if you would like to read more about Liardet who was quite a character.
Researching further I found that Eugene von Guerard painted our Port Phillip Bay in 1857. Eugene makes a neat segue from the Hudson River School discussed in my recent blogs as he also studied at the famous Düsseldorf School of Art as did many of the Hudson River Group.
So, not only were the settlers, convicts and explorers shaping our future culture, so were the artists.
But Mr Liardet has given us an even greater gift. In November last year (2017) the State Library Victoria was given the chance to purchase a watercolour of early Melbourne painted in 1862 by WFE Liardet titled View of the North Shore, Port Melbourne. This painting has not been seen by the public since it was painted. And here it is and I'm in love with this wonderful glimpse into our past.
I must be honest and admit to a personal interest as my greatgreatgrandparents were brought to Melbourne in 1841, no not as convicts, but as Bounty Migrants to help build the new colony.
But moving on to the Bayside Art Trail which goes for 17kms along Port Phillip Bay from Elwood Beach to Beaumaris. The trail celebrates the lives and artwork of notable Australian artists who painted the Bayside coast encompassing the elements of Art, History, Indigenous and Environment.
It is not my intention to describe the trail in detail as the excellent App Bayside does it all. I highly recommend you download it and do the virtual tour which cover art, architecture, historical sites plus much more. What I want to do is highlight some of the interesting painters and their works.
We’re going to start with Frederick McCubbin whom most of you know very well. What you probably don’t know is that Fred was a student of Eugene von Guerard (see above) as was his friend and fellow painter Tom Roberts. So both these early Australian artists were taught by the man who rose from the same teachings as many of the Hudson River painters. You can see the same control of dramatic light in Golden Sunlight by McCubbin.
And in his painting of Prince's Bridge.
I went looking for the dramatic light in the Bayside paintings of Tom Roberts without success as he produced his beachside scenes using the impressionist techniques which he became famous for. Interestingly Roberts was influenced by James Whistler whom we met in an earlier Blog.
Robert's saved his use of drama for his masterpiece which has nothing to do with our coast line but plenty to do with the birth of a nation. This is his painting of the opening of parliament in 1901, the birth of a nation. The painting is commonly known as The Big Picture as the title is as long as the painting. Many people don't realise that our first Parliament was sworn in here, in Melbourne, in our very own Royal Exhibition Building.
Later Roberts wrote to his son Caleb: When the great day came your mother and I went to the hall of the Exhibition Building, and without getting seats, walked quietly at the very back, and climbing up some rails, I was able to see that immense gathering of people from Australia, and from so many parts of the world. It was very solemn and great. The heads on the floor looked like a landscape.
McCubbin and Roberts also studied with Thomas Clark and here is Clark's rendition of Red Bluff, Elwood. It's rather a grand painting.
But back to the beach where McCubbin and Roberts, during the period 1886-1907, were camping and painting with their friends including Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and Walter Withers. As Streeton said: In spite of the heat, the vile hammocks we slept in, the pest of flies and the puce-coloured walls, we had a great time here … On Sundays we took a billy and chops and tomatoes down to a beautiful little bay which was full of fossils, where we camped for the day. We returned home during the evening through groves of exquisite tea-trees, the sea serene, the cliffs at Sandringham flushed with the afterglow.(Ref:William Moore, The Story of Australian Art, 1934)
And out of these camps was born the famous Heidelberg School of painters who shaped the way our nation was to be recorded.
Streeton’s Bayside scenes are well publicised so I've chosen to show you Prince's Bridge, Melbourne as he perceived it in Between the Lights-Prince's Bridge.
I’ve always been a Charles Conder* fan and this is one of his impressions of Bayside, titled Windy Day at Brighton. Just delightful!
And who wouldn’t be touched by the charm of Walter Withers’ paintings shown here in Rickett's Point. Withers by the way taught Norman Lindsay, someone we are sure to meet very soon.
Emanuel Phillip Fox, like his friend Tom Roberts, was influenced by the Impressionists but Fox is not nearly as well known. His paintings of the bay are quite different to those of many of the other artists. To be honest this is untitled but the vegetation certainly looks right for the scenery around Port Phillip Bay. He painted many coastal scenes and worked overseas including a year in St Ives Cornwall. And so we see once more how many paths lead back to Cornwall!
Before continuing along the Bayside Trail to meet some of the artists who followed in the footsteps of our early masters, tomorrow I want to show you how much we have to thank the smoking of cigars for the growth of our artistic culture.
The hero image today is a slice of Brighton Beach by Fred McCubbin, known as The Prof by his friends.
The foreshore coastal trail includes walks and experiences that celebrate Bayside's indigenous stories of the *Boon wurrung people.*