Menzies Art Brands



Study for Still Glides the Stream 1887-88 was painted when Arthur Streeton was twenty-one. Already recognised as a rising star of Australian art Streeton had painted from the age of thirteen the precociously talented and highly ambitious painter eschewed formal art school training, claiming that it was too academic and old fashioned. Instead, Streeton embraced a new approach to art and life that proved far more ground-breaking.

Australian Impressionism, epitomised in the work of Streeton, developed at a decisive point in the evolution of Australian art and culture. It was an impressionism or naturalism indebted to homegrown realism and fashioned from knowledge and techniques brought back to Australia by foreign-born artists and returning Australians, notably Tom Roberts in 1885. This new art movement favoured new understandings and respect for the local landscape and its depiction in art.

Nationalist sentiment, admiration of an Australian type, such as the itinerant bush worker, and the adaptation of English, French and American painting and literature to local conditions became the primary hallmarks of the new style. Artists painted directly from nature and in quick succession to capture a moment in time and to legitimise the impression. This was a radical departure from conventional landscape painting that emphasised finish as intrinsic to a fully resolved work of art. Arthur Streetons painting practice was informed by and played a key role in helping to shape the profound changes in Australian landscape painting.

Streeton had begun to explore and paint the picturesque district of Heidelberg, Eaglemont and Templestowe, outside Melbourne, as early as the mid-1880s.1 These three adjacent rural hamlets were a fertile agricultural base and had become popular beauty spots for city weekenders from the 1870s. For Streeton, it was to become the locale of many of his most famous and memorable works of art, including Study for Still Glides the Stream 1887-88. Its 1890 companion painting was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales only months after it was completed.

Streeton was inspired by Louis Buvelots masterful painting Summer Afternoon, Templestowe 1866 and he wanted to view the earlier artists subject at first-hand. The painting had been included in a National Gallery of Victoria exhibition of Buvelots work held in July 1886 and Streeton later claimed it as the first fine landscape painted in Victoria.2

Streeton hoped to emulate Buvelots achievements in imbuing a distinctly Australian scene with both feeling and significant meaning, even going so far as to work on a quartet of paintings that echoed Buvelots own attempts at painting seasonal change. Importantly, Streeton was also looking to apply the lessons he had learnt from fellow artist and mentor Tom Roberts. Older than Streeton by a decade, Roberts had brought back to Australia from Europe knowledge and techniques of the new approach to painting.

The first of the artists camps was situated in a pocket of bush near Houstons farm in suburban Box Hill, where Roberts, Louis Abrahams and Frederick McCubbin camped intermittingly during 1886-87. Streeton joined them in 1887 and was quickly taken by Roberts ruminations on how to capture the shifting nuances of colour and light seen in the transformation of day into night. He later recalled:

We tried painting the sunset with somewhat conventional and melodramatic results. Roberts pointed to the evening sky in the east, and showed us the beauty of its subtle greys, and the delicate flush of the afterglow, when the shadow of the earth upon its atmosphere, resembling a cool band of cool grey, rises up, and succeeds the rosy warmth as the sun descends further below the western horizon. He was the first artist in Australia to notice it, and to point it out to the native-born.3

Arthur Streetons June Evening at Box Hill 1887 (Queensland Art Gallery) and Evening with Bathers 1888 (National Gallery of Victoria) both capture the atmospheric effects of twilight through delicate brushwork and the application of subtle and mellow hues of pink, yellow and grey. As the Argus critic eloquently conveyed:

Arthur Streeton's June Evening at Box Hill is an impression of nature of which most artists will recognise the force and value. A slant ray of light from the setting sun glances on the tops of the trees in the second plane of the picture, and the landscape in the foreground is already enveloped in misty shadow, save where a small pool of water reflects the amber light in the west, while the cloudy sky above, with a lower stratum of vapour, tinged by the sun-set, is handled with characteristic ability.4

Whereas in June Evening, Streeton focussed on a quiet and secluded pocket of nature, his Evening with Bathers took advantage of a more elevated position looking eastwards, rendering the distant Dandenong Ranges in a saturated, smoky, blue haze. Similarly striking atmospheric effects can be discerned in Study for Still Glides the Stream 1887-88. This painting may have been completed only a few months later in the autumn of 1888, along with a number of other related Heidelberg works.5 Having been enthused by Buvelot, Streeton consciously produced a panoramic view of a Victorian scene in a style, scale and technique that we now recognise as distinctly his own.

Heidelberg inspired one of Arthur Streetons most productive periods. Key works such as the iconic Golden Summer, Eaglemont 1889, Spring 1890 and Still Glides the Stream and Shall Forever Glide 1890 were all produced there. Having accepted the offer of staying at a dilapidated weatherboard homestead in October 1888, Streeton worked long hours producing these works and 40 or so small impressions on cigar box lids for the celebrated 9 x 5 Impression Exhibition held in Melbourne in 1889. At their core was a new sense of freshness and spontaneity as he captured what lay before him quickly and with great verve. Importantly for Streeton, these works imparted a sense of poetry in nature rather than simply the power of observation. They also reflect the artists increasing self-belief.

The Yarra River flats leading inexorably toward the distant Ranges evoked the kind of emotions Streeton experienced when reading poetry. More particularly, Still Glides the Stream, and Shall Forever Glide is a line from an 1820 sonnet by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought. Like Wordsworth, Streeton was endeavouring to transport the viewer into a deeply felt realm in Streetons case, through the agency of a tranquil and peaceful Australian pastoral scene.

Study for Still Glides the Stream is painted slightly more to the north than the final AGNSW version. This change in aspect accounts for the absence of the meandering river that is obscured by trees and undulating paddocks. However, Streeton captures the same sense of dreaminess and stillness in both, evoking the gloaming, and the transition from light to dark. Our work is tenderly painted: subtle colouring and individual brushstrokes are subsumed within a composition that gently recedes into the distance. For the young artist that Streeton was, these paintings reached a desired level of achievement. To end with words from the same Wordsworth poem that the painting is based on seems fitting: if something from our hands have power/ To live, and act, and serve the future hour.


1. Clark, J., Summers at Heidelberg, in Tunnicliffe, W. (ed.), Streeton, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2020, p.64
2. Ibid., p.354, note 6.
3. The Argus, Melbourne, 21 June 1932, p.8
4. The Argus, Melbourne, 7 October 1887, p.9
5. As Tim Abdallah has previously pointed out, Streeton used the composition in a number of paintings at the time, Australian and International Fine Art and Sculpture, Menzies, 30 November 2017, p. 140.

Rodney James
Rodney James is an independent art consultant who specialises in valuations, collection management, exhibitions, research and writing, and strategic planning for art galleries and museums.


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