Mountainous Landscape early 1840's signed 'Eug:v:Guérard fec / Dusseldorf' lower left; Previous label verso inscribed: 'No 40/Eugen v. Guérard/Gebirgslandschaft/in Vordergrund LandsKnechte' oil on canvas 62.0 x 83.0cm (24 7/16 x 32 11/16in).
PROVENANCE Private collection, Germany Australian and International Paintings, Christie's, Melbourne, 2 May 2002, lot 97A Private collection, Sydney
Lured to Australia during the great gold rushes of the early 1850s, Eugene von Guérard stayed on in Melbourne to become one of the most important artists of the late colonial period. Appointed as the first head of the National Gallery of Victoria, he was also in charge of the Gallery's art school. His position as the leading landscape painter of his time was challenged only by the later arrival of Louis Buvelot. He travelled extensively in Victoria and into South Australia and New South Wales, making detailed drawings in his sketchbooks. These he translated, in the studio, into paintings of the Aboriginal peoples, portraits of the pastoralists' homesteads, and panoramic landscapes of the Sublime in nature. Fine examples are found in many public and private collections as in Mr Clark's Station, Deep Creek, near Keilor 1867 in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and in Canberra, the National Gallery of Australia's Ferntree Gully in the Dandenong Ranges 1857, evoking the beauty and mystery of a primeval landscape.
The discovery, during more recent years, of a number of von Guérard's paintings from his important Düsseldorf years has thrown light on his studies of nature and the development of his art before coming to Australia. Ruth Pullin made a special study of this period in his art, her thesis, Eugène von Guérard and the Science of Landscape Painting, exploring 'the impact that developments in the natural sciences in early nineteenth-century Germany had on von Guerard's landscape painting.' 1 Pullin also co-curated the major exhibition Eugene von Guérard: Nature Revealed, shown at the National Gallery of Victoria during 2011. The accompanying catalogue throws further light on the Düsseldorf paintings such as Rabenstein 1841 (private collection, England), and oil sketches painted in the open air Speckermönch 1841 (private collection, Canberra) and Cloud Study 1845 (private collection, England). 2
Mountainous Landscape, painted at Düsseldorf during the 1840s, is a fascinating and significant work in his oeuvre. As Pullin has pointed out, it 'is probably a composite or ideal landscape, relating to the exquisite landscape drawings which fill a small sketchbook made on "winter evenings" in Düsseldorf.' 3 There is also the influence of Johann Wilhelm Schirmer and the Düsseldorf Academy where Schirmer had been appointed Professor of Landscape Painting, the first such appointment in a European academy.
Von Guérard enrolled at the prestigious Academy in 1840. The students were encouraged to sketch in the open air, studying nature closely in all its particularities and individualities. Of like importance was the concept of the heroic landscape in which the hand of the Creator could be seen in all its sublime glory. This wonder at the natural world found expression in such features as botanical and geological accuracy, as in Mountainous Landscape. Here, von Guérard's fascination with craggy rocks and mountains peopled with noble trees recollects his 1841 paintings Rabenstein and Below the Rabenstein (private collection, England). Again in Mountainous Landscape, the characteristic introduction of the foreground group of small figures, the band of soldiers or 'Landsknechte' (compatriots), serves two important functions. Compositionally it provides a sense of scale. More importantly, of man's minuteness, emphasizing that sense of awe before the grandeur of Nature, so readily apparent in von Guerard's Australian landscapes.
1. V.R. Pullin, Eugène von Guérard and the Science of Landscape Painting, PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 2007, 'Introduction', p.5 2. Ruth Pullin, Eugene von Guérard: Nature revealed, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2011, pp. 89, 87, & 93 respectively 3. Ruth Pullin, Christie's 2002, op. cit., p.104
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