Eugene von Guerard and the science of landscape painting
AuthorPullin, Virginia Ruth
AffiliationSchool of Culture and Communication
School of Culture and Communication
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsPullin, V. R. (2007). Eugene von Guerard and the science of landscape painting. PhD thesis, School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne.
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© 2007 Dr. Virginia Ruth Pullin
Eugene von Guerard (1811-1901) is regarded as one of Australia's most important nineteenth century landscape painters. He was forty one when he arrived in Australia in 1852. His training, his contact with artists in Rome, Naples and Dusseldorf and his engagement with contemporary scientific thought in Europe shaped his response to the Australian landscape. In this thesis von Guerard's origins in Vienna and the role played by his artist-father in his early art practice are explored. The reconstruction of von Guerard's early life in Europe is based on the artist's sketchbooks and unpublished oil sketches. His training under Bassi in Rome (1830-32), his immersion in the German community of artists there, the significance of the Nazarene painters and the influence of Joseph Anton Koch for his career are examined. In Naples, where von Guerard lived and worked for six years, he painted with Pitloo and the School of Posillipo, he was introduced to Hackert's work and ideas and he undertook an extensive Sicilian expedition recorded in the sketchbooks of both father and son. In Naples von Guerard's interest in volcanic geology was ignited. Following the death of his father in 1836 von Guerard arrived in Dusseldorf 1838 where he studied landscape painting under Schirmer and Lessing, participating in their open air painting expeditions to the Neander Valley and the Eifel. He made studies volcanic phenomena in the Eifel, an important site for the emerging science of geognosy. In Dusseldorf he was exposed to the ideas of Humboldt and Carus, took sketching expeditions along the Rhine, met his future wife Louise Arnz and was a founding member of the Kunstlerverein Malkasten. An examination of the landscape paintings and lithographs that he produced during the almost thirty years he spent in Australia (1852-1882) indicates that Humboldt's ideas were the enduring imperative for von Guerard's journey to Australia. In a series of case studies von Guerard's career as a Humboldtian Reisekunstler is explored. Von Guerard's scientific interests were nurtured in mid-century Melbourne by the community of eminent German scientists resident there. His expedition to Kosciuszko with the eminent geophysicist, Georg von Neumayer, epitomized Carus's ideal of the complementary relationship between art and science. His interpretation of the volcanic Western District, prior to government geological surveys, was informed by his studies of parallel phenomena in Germany's Eifel region. In Victoria's fern gullies and the sub tropical rain forest of New South Wales von Guerard portrayed plant species from Humboldt's sixteen Urpflanzen in their natural groupings and environmental context. His album, Eugene von Guerard's Australian Landscapes, was recognized by the geologist of Novara expedition fame, Ferdinand von Hochstetter in Vienna in 1870 for its geological and botanical content. Carus and Humboldt looked for a poetic response to nature, one that would communicate a sense of the inner life of the subject and this von Guerard achieved through the sensitivity of his touch, the honesty of his response to nature and the compositional geometry of his works, works that brought Humboldt's vision of unity and interconnectedness to the Australian landscape.
KeywordsEugene von Guerard; landscape painters; Australia; Germany; Victoria; landscape painting; 19th century
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