Euegene Von Guérard in Australian Art History
On investigating von Guérards movements and education in the pursuit of his love of nature and art, we find that he had bias tendances toward a colonialist attitude in his neo-classic education and the ‘romantic’ execution of his subject matter, and although his landscape paintings were ‘geognostic’, and his plant and animal investigations scientific (Hutchings, 2011), he notably and perhaps unconsciously helped in the promotion of imperialistic, colonialism using sublime, Acadian and pastoral conventions, while marginalizing the Aboriginal community as past, passive and accepting.
Johann Joseph Von Guérard was born in Vienna in 1811 his father was a miniature painter and the court painter to Emperor Franz I of Austria (Mackenzie, 2000). In 1826 von Guérard accompanied his father Bernard von Guérard, to Italy where they spent time travelling before his formal training began under the Italian landscape painter Giambattista Bassi in Rome. He was also influenced by John Christian Reinhart and Joseph Anton Koch. After the death of his father in 1836, von Guérard left for Dusseldorf to study at the Dusseldorf Academy progressive school of landscape painting under Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, where the sublime, and Arcadian conventions (Smith,1988) became von Guérards ideal.
Figure 1. Eugene von Guérard, Ballarat, 1854. State Library of Victoria. State Library of Victoria. http://www.thecultureconcept.com/circle/national-gallery-eugene-von-guerard-nature-revealed
Lured by the gold rush, von Guérard found himself in the Ballarat gold fields just two weeks after landing in Melbourne in 1852. He was unlucky in his pursuit for gold, but his dairy and sketches have become valuable items of history in the State Library of Victoria (Tipping, 1972). Pictured in his painting Ballarat, he idealistically sets a bright jovial narrative of a hero digger with a pan dripping with gold. The hole seen is immersed in gold: the glimmer of gold reflected in the water, the earth beneath his feet, and the gold barrels, trousers and hat. The trees even seem to shimmer with gold. This scene is quite contradictory to his personal experience in digging, which in reality would have been steeped in hardship. As Robert Hughes (2003, pp 557-3) exposes journalist Samuel Solomon (1813-1883), as a literary con man for extensively writing about life in Australia, during the gold rush, relying solely on his brothers information when he returned from Australia in 1847. Solomon would have been encouraged by artists like von Guérard. Von Guérards paintings, have been described by Rodrigue (2011) as accurate recordings of nature, but in some cases, as in von Guérards Ballarat, it was not the case. Natives chasing, game was first named Aboriginals met on the road to the diggings (1854) (Mackenzie, 2000), and was first sketched on the way to Ballarat to join the gold rush in 1852. The name Aboriginals met on the road to the diggings could have had a negative bearing on the political, cultural and economy landscape that was transforming Australia during this time (Evans, 1994), and which still worked under the laws of ‘terra nullius’ (land occupied by no one). So Natives chasing, game, was a name used later which assumed that the Aboriginals were on a hunting expedition, that could have been incorporated to suppress any negative notion to the public that local Aborigines were hostile and occupied the land ( Hoorn, 1993.pp78-2).
Figure 2. Von Guérard, Eugene, 1811-1901. Natives chasing game. Also known as: Aborigines met on the road to the diggings, 1854: oil on canvas; 46.5 x 37 cm. Rex Nan Kivell Collection NK108
The name change could have happened when the painting was exhibited in Melbourne in 1854 and then staged in ’Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1855 (Mackenzie, 2000). Though Von Guérard did pride himself on a truthful analysis of what he saw, ‘everything I saw incited me to pursue a strict truthfulness: not one line of a mountain range not one variation in the outline of a tree… could ever seem to me accidental or undeserving of precise representation’ (Hutchings, 2011. pp76-1), but if the painting was a true account of how Von Guérard seen, this so called hunting party, would the assumed leader in the foreground be carrying a shield? What purpose could a shield have in hunting? One might argue the relevance of the shield alone, and, if one was to analyse an obvious hierarchal order: the central figure as leader, second in command on his right, and the third command on his left signalling a halt to a platoon below. This painting does not display a hunting party, but suggests rather an approach to battle, because according to Evans (1994) the Aborigines were becoming disquiet, because of the devastating effect the diggers were having on the landscape, but if potential immigrants were to understand that Australia was not safe, or seen to be occupied by conquest, then this could have ultimately tarnished the puritan colony and depleted the economy, so Aboriginal peoples were portrayed as content and accepting of their position in the natural order of progress and evolution.
After von Guérards marriage to Marry Louise Arnz in 1854, he found himself in the company of scientists, Alfred Howitt, Georg von Neumayer (Tipping, 1972) and Sir Ferdinand von Mueller (Pullin, 2011) and went on traveling expeditions through Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand (Tipping, 1972) documenting scientific records of plants, animals and peoples of the areas (Rodrigue, 2011), but in 1855 it was reported in ‘The Argus, 1 of February’ (Tipping, 1972), a difficult time in selling his work, so he tried to sell many paintings unsuccessfully by lottery. Fortunately by October 1856 Von Guérard was given patronage by the Western District pastoralists (Eagle and Jones, 1994) and became an active founder of the Victorian Society of fine Arts, where new wealthy patrons commissioned him to transfer many of his sketches from expeditions to canvases, he was also commissioned to produce finished presentation drawings as souvenirs for people leaving Australia. Many of his paintings went to exhibitions in Vienna, Paris, London, where others went to America, Natal, Dusseldorf, and even Queen Isabella of Naples bought two of his early works (Tipping, 1972) ultimately providing a positive perspective of the Australian colony.
One might argue that von Guérard worked to the tastes of his patrons, but not only to support himself and his new wife, but to support a liberal ideal which reflected his educational roots from Rome and Dusseldorf (Sayers, 2001). As James Smith Esq announced in his inaugural address to the members of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts ‘We can assemble in our annual exhibitions, and ultimately, I hope, in a National Gallery, founded in the same spirit of wise liberality which dictates the establishment and endowment of our public library’ (The Argus, 1856), and Wolff (1981. pp27-2) describes artists of the pre-modern period as ‘severely constrained by political and financial pressures’ that dictated a narrow expression instructed by patrons and sponsors.
Western District Squatters in New South Wales, that had investments in grand country houses and looked towards a probable future in Australia, commissioned von Guérard to paint their homestead portraits and landscape views that depicted many poetic images that Alexander von Humbolt in Cosmos(1849) wrote , ‘We must trace natures image reflected in the mind of man’ (Humbolt in Eagle and Jones, 1994. pp 55-2), the mind of the man was a liberal one, a romantic, neo-classic puritan, that strive to tame the wild frontier with hierarchical order, so according to Eagle and Jones (1994,pp 54-2) von Guérard used Acadian metaphors to depict images of the past and future.
Figure 3. Eugene von Guérard, 1811-1901. Mr Clark’s Station, Deep Creek, near Keilor 1867. Oil on canvas 68.4×121.8cm. http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/eugene-von-guerard/2359/mr-clarks-station-deep-creek-near-keilor-1867/
The future journey of man, such as in Mr Clarks Station (1867) figure 3, depicts a subdued wild and rocky foreground heavily shadowed, a mid-ground in orderly rows of plantation, with an impressive homestead, out houses and sweeping lawns and gardens. The future is graded in the distant views of rolling pastures, bright and cheerful. Stoney Rise (1857) in figure 4 represents the past. An Aboriginal family group represents a past hunter gather life style, steeped in the dark shadows of a setting sun. A central figure looks to the sun set and toward a natural scientific progression into the future, a future bathed in sun light, while, the life his family act out behind him disappears into the past, but the future relies heavily on agriculture and commerce, and under the guise of the national interests colonial settlers reap rewards. Colonial settlers were not selfless altruists that worked for the future generations, but worked for their own self-interests, ignoring class divisions and the fact that pastoral occupation was the ‘result of conquest and the dispossession of Aboriginal people’ (Smith, 1988).
Figure 4. Eugene von Guérard. Stoney Rise, Lake Corangamite, 1857. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_von_Guerard Retrieved 21th of June 2014.
The preoccupation with pastoral landscapes continued to be the focus for conservative artists and critics up until the 1930’s (Smith, 1988), and where von Guérard believed he failed, to influence his contemporaries, Frederick McCubbin, Rupert Bunny, E. Wake Cook, Bertram Mackennal and Tom Roberts (Tipping, 1972), his legacy continued in the sublime, Arcadian and pastoral conventions, which immortalised the success of pastoralists in the paintings of their estates (Gavva, 1998) and continued to marginalise the Aboriginal people as past. McLean, (1995. pp96-4) argues that in ‘colonialist art the frontier myth first clears the ground by a grotesque aesthetic, and then transforms this decimated site into a picturesque pastoralism.’
After examining Eugene von Guérards education, paintings and patrons we discover that he played an active role in the promotion of imperialistic, colonialism, though perhaps unconsciously because of political and financial pressures. His idealistic reference to the gold rush in Ballarat (1854) and the name change of Aboriginals met on the road to the diggings (1854), and his representation of past and future in Mr Clarks Station (1856) and Stoney Rise (1857), demonstrates to us that in using his sublime and Acadian conventions he succeeded in immortalizing pastoralist ideals while he marginalized the Aboriginal community as the past, and ultimately passive and accepting.
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Figure 1. Eugene von Guérard, Ballarat, 1854. State Library of Victoria http://www.thecultureconcept.com/circle/national-gallery-eugene-von-guerard-nature-revealed Retrieved 21th of June 2014.
Figure 2. Von Guerard, Eugene, 1811-1901. ‘Natives chasing game,’ 1854. 1 painting : oil on canvas ; 46.5 x 37 cm.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an2282444-1 Retrieved 21th of June 2014.
Figure 3. Eugene von Guérard, 1811-1901. Mr Clark’s Station, Deep Creek, near Keilor 1867. Oil on canvas 68.4×121.8cm. http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/eugene-von-guerard/2359/mr-clarks-station-deep-creek-near-keilor-1867/ Retrieved 21th of June 2014.
Figure 4. Eugene von Guérard, 1811-1901. Stoney Rise, Lake Corangamite, 1857. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_von_Guerard Retrieved 21th of June 2014.
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