Panning for Gold 1893 signed and dated 'Walter Withers '93' lower right oil on canvas 46.0 x 30.4cm (18 1/8 x 11 15/16in).
Provenance: Gifted by the artist to his doctor, Edgar Inglis, 1893 by descent to his three sons 1926, at "Kiyuga", The Rock, New South Wales Gordon Inglis Tim Goodman, Sydney, 1981 Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne David Bremer Collection, 1988 Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne Private collection, Melbourne
EXHIBITED The Australian Impressionists: Their Origins & Influences, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Westpac Gallery, Victorian Art Centre, Melbourne; St. Neots, Double Bay, Sydney, 15 August - 16 September 1988, cat. no. 18 Impressions of Colour: Colour in Australian Art, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, 18 August - 29 September 2012, cat. no. 25 (illus.)
LITERATURE Lauraine Diggins, Forward by Jane Clark, The Australian Impressionists: Their Origins & Influences, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, 1988, cat. no. 18 (illus.)
Although Withers was the grandson of an artist, his English family did not encourage artistic ambition and after some training in London he arrived in Australia (1 January 1883) to work on the land for eighteen months. He attended life classes only at the Gallery School from 1884 1887, then he returned to Europe. He met the Australian painters Emanuel Phillips Fox, Tudor St George Tucker and John Longstaff in Paris; and, with an offer of employment as an illustrator, he returned to Melbourne in June 1888. Living in Walpole Street, Kew, Withers painted regularly with the Heidelberg artists, especially while his wife was revisiting England in 1889 90. He was nicknamed 'The Colonel' for his efficient and orderly ways at the artists' camp. In September 1890 he took over the south end of the Heidelberg mansion 'Chartersville'. In 1893, he moved to Creswick where he held plein air painting classes with J Miller Marshall (a visiting English artist) - when Percy and Lionel Lindsay were among his most promising pupils.
Panning for Gold is one of four paintings from that time and the only one still in private hands. Mining scene, Creswick 1893 (oil on canvas, 69 x 50.8 cm) is in the collection of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, The Fossickers (oil on canvas, 67 x 49cm) is in the National Gallery of Australia collection, while Cradling 1893 also known as The Gold Puddlers (oil on canvas, 67 x 49.6 cm) has recently entered the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Withers returned to Heidelberg (Cape Street) in 1894 and was elected president of the Victorian Artists' Society in the same year he sold A Bright Winter's Morning to the National Gallery of Victoria. In 1897 and 1900 he received the Wynne Prize for landscape painting. Even after he moved and built a large studio at Eltham in 1903, he often painted along the bayside beaches around Melbourne. As a founding member of the Australian Art Association in 1912 and trustee of the Gallery 1912 14, he remained an active participant in Melbourne's professional art life. He died at Eltham in 1914.
"In 1893 he [Withers] spent several weeks in Creswick holding an out-of-door-class during the month of January. Creswick, with its Italian colouring of blue and gold, made an ideal painting ground, and the students were enthusiastic workers. Amongst those who took advantage of this opportunity were Percy Lindsay (then a promising young landscape painter), and, at the evening drawing class held in the [Ballarat] School of Mines, his young brother, now the well-known Norman Lindsay a schoolboy then, whose remarkable facility in drawing aroused Withers' wonder and delight.... Withers was himself painting at every possible leisure moment while in Creswick, and executed some fine work in connection with the seekers of gold 'Cradling', now in the possession of Mr John May; 'The Two Fossickers', bought by Mr Theodore Fink; and 'Finding Gold', the property of Mr James Dyer were the principal works of this Summer."1
1 The Art and Life of Walter Withers, Australian Art Books, Alexander McCubbin Publisher, Melbourne, c.1920, p.19