Landscape painter Eugene Von Guerard: Nature Revealed or not?

Painting of 'Tower Hill' by Eugene-von-Guérard

Eugene Von Guerard  ‘Tower Hill’ 1855  Oil on Canvas

I caught up with a painting buddy in Melbourne recently and we went to an exhibition of Eugene Von Guerard’s (1811-1901) paintings and drawings at NGV Australia. We had a great time talking about everything except the Von Guerard paintings and probably annoyed everyone in the gallery who were so quiet and pious in their viewing. Strange. Does it have to be that quiet?

‘Nature Revealed’ is the title of the exhibition. I don’t know whether it’s quite true of his paintings for me but it’s a very comprehensive and enjoyable exhibition of his work. Originally born in Austria he came to Australia in 1852 to join in on the gold rush in Victoria like thousands of others from all over the world. Didn’t discover much gold but he did discover the landscape and decided painting commisions for rich pastoralists was more lucrative.

Most Victorians are quite familiar with his paintings from childhood as he painted much of the Victorian landscape in his 19th century German picturesque style. We had ‘Woodlands’ (1869) at home which I loved.

It’s highly detailed painting. Kind of naive. Sometimes it seems like a scene from somewhere on the Nile. I don’t think he got the Australian light right but he tried. It’s too soft by half but he did get the colour of the sea occasionally and made a great attempt at the flora and fauna. This has so much accuracy that for example the painting at the top was used as a botanical template over a century later when the government wanted to reforest the area with native flora. Good on you Von Guerard.

Take a look at ‘Nature Revealed’ if you happen to be in Melbourne and are into landscape painting. And if you can’t be there during it’s run, there’s a few permanently on display at the same gallery. Also his ‘View of Geelong’ at Geelong Art Gallery is worth taking a trip for.

Eugene Von Guerard: Nature Revealed

National Gallery of Victoria,  Federation Square, Melbourne

Dates: 16th April – 7th August 2011

In fact, I thought my calling was to be a painter.
Patti Smith

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