Menzies Art Brands



The view towards Hobart across the Derwent River from Bellerive was popular amongst Tasmanian artists in the 19th century. The same view appears in major works by Henry Gritten (1818-1873), Knud Bull (1811-1889) and Eugne von Gurard (1812-1901). For Haughton Forrest, who arrived in Tasmania in 1876, the view of majestic Mount Wellington with bustling Hobart below it was an ideal subject. An established painter before his arrival, Forrest had painted similar scenes in the English Lake district, and of the coast of Ireland, Scotland and France. Coastal landscape was Forrests specific and lifelong interest, and for the remainder of his long and productive life, Tasmania provided him with the ideal environment to develop this interest.

Forrest painted several versions of this subject. Although his work is generally finely painted and carefully composed, his treatment allowed for considerable variation in mood, which could range from the topographical to the Romantic. Perhaps his best known treatment of this subject, his large Hobart Town with Mount Wellington in the Background of 1882, for example, is a close focus view of the Hobart waterfront with individual ships and buildings clearly identifiable. It represents an important historical document. Forrests smaller Hobart, on the other hand, uses repoussoir foreground elements: trees, a headland, figures and boats going about their business to frame the central landscape and to create an altogether more picturesque tableau. Forrest is best known for his dramatic marine paintings, typically showing stormy shipwrecks with rescue vessels off a rocky coastline these works are almost photographically1 accurate in regard to the ships fittings and riggings, even if they do not always represent actual coastline or specific events. Although he went to some lengths to ensure the correctness of Mount Wellington and Hobart from the Eastern Shore, he also enlivened the scene through the extensive use of incidental human activity. In the background, we see smoke rising from chimneys in Sandy Bay and ships coming and going across the harbour. The foreground is populated with a number of small figures: we can see a man seated in the boat in in the foreground and to the right, a small group of youths fishing off the rocks. A figure standing next to the solitary tree in the centre of the composition appears to be gazing directly at us, while behind him two further figures appear to be engaged in an animated conversation.

By neatly blending the picturesque and the factual, Haughton Forrest created an enduring record that continues to engage viewers interested in the history of a place as well as people who lived ordinary lives there.

1. Bonyhady,T., Australian Colonial Paintings in the Australian National Gallery, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1986, pp.104-5

Timothy Abdallah

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