Menzies Art Brands



Arthur Streeton is unquestionably the greatest Australian landscape painter of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His position is unique as was his ability to have straddled both centuries and to have painted within Australia and abroad with all the customary energy and commitment that he brought to his art.

Arthur Streeton is the painter of what could be called the landscape moment. Although Streeton and his contemporaries have an acknowledged debt to the Barbizon French school of painting, it is a debt that he and his fellow painters Charles Conder and Tom Roberts repaid from the early 1880s. The moment was now in the hands of these young painters who made spontaneous plein air painting their own. On local soil Australian naturalism yet unnamed took force. 1889 was their crucible year. Charles Conder completed Impressionists Camp 1889 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) and Arthur Streeton painted Golden Summer Eaglemont 1889 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra). In that year Streeton also produced his sublime 9 x 5 paintings that arguably, along with Sidney Nolans Ned Kelly 194647 suite, are one of the two most important series of paintings in Australian art history.

That Streeton continued to develop as a professional painter was compelling and after almost 20 years abroad, Streeton returned to Australia and saw his country and its landscape anew and took stock of his recent experiences.

Streeton returned to Australia permanently in September 1923, and after the sale of Golden Summer Eaglemont 1889 for the record price of 1000 guineas in 1924 he was able to build a house on land he had purchased in 1921 at Olinda in the Dandenong Ranges. He divided his time between Melbourne and Olinda from this point before settling in Olinda more permanently in the mid-1930s. Living in this landscape, nurturing the indigenous trees on his property, and blending them into a garden of introduced plants and flowers led to an intimate knowledge of the environment.1

Olinda and the surrounding Dandenong Ranges were to be Streetons genius loci and the source of inspiration for the next 20 years. The paintings Streeton completed there remain unequalled for their concerted quality but also, and significantly, for their sensitivity to place and to the concerns that Streeton had for his surroundings. Streeton was passionate about conservation, and trees, particularly the cutting down of trees and the effect this had on the land.

The Arthur Streeton painting The Vanishing Forest 1934 (on loan to the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Victoria from the Estate of Margery Pierce) has been described as one of the most important paintings from the last decade of Streetons life.2 Although larger, squarer and a year later, the painting closely resembles our present lot, Pale Blue and Gold 1933. Pale Blue and Gold is a comparable view but is taken more laterally and in different light. The Vanishing Forest is where the bluntend of conservation resides, with tree-felling and broken trunks. It is the close partner to Streetons Last of the Messmates 1928 (private collection) also with foregrounded felled trees. The message could not be clearer.

Indeed, Tim Bonyhady, the environmental lawyer and cultural historian, has noted that one of Streetons refrains became that his ideal of an afterlife was not the ghastly monotony of either heaven or hell but to come back to Olinda, haunt his blackwoods and scare the life out of anyone who cut down any of the trees he had planted.3

How important then, and how fortuitous that we present Pale Blue and Gold for sale at auction. The painting was purchased by Alfred Bardsley in the 1930s and has remained in the familys collection since bought. It is a moment foretold and joins the other paintings that have come forward, or are in the public domain, from the important Streeton retrospective exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery, Melbourne in 1933.

Pale Blue and Gold like other Dandenong paintings is both a complex and open-ended painting. Streeton gives precedence to the verticals of the composition. The stark white of these shorn trees, as they are in The Vanishing Forest, marshal our eye to various points of the picture. In Pale Blue and Gold white verticals are to the middle and right and then matchstick, diagonally, in the other direction. This saws the composition into planks of colour and light that transverse the painting. Lest we forget the foreground of Pale Blue and Gold where in shadow we see a diagonal slash of trunk and debris hurriedly painted in. It is a frieze, a punctuation, quite at odds with the paleness, and the blue and gold of the painting that lies beyond.


1. Tunnicliffe, W.,Streeton, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2020, p.259
2. Smith, G., Arthur Streeton: 1867 1943, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, p.178
3. Bonyhady, T., Streeton, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2020, p.313

Brett Ballard

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