signed lower right: Arthur Streeton/ - Smike
Mr Barry Humphries AO CBE, London (stamped verso)
Private collection, Sydney
Charles Conder 1868-1909, Graves Art Gallery, United Kingdom, 1 September - 1 October 1967, cat.5 (label attached verso)
Arthur Streeton (1867–1943) is one of Australia’s most significant and recognisable artists, celebrated for his paintings that seemed to capture the very essence of the Australian landscape. As a founder of the Heidelberg school, also known as Australian Impressionism, Streeton’s late nineteenth-century images shaped the movement to create a national school of art. Inspired by working en plein air, his study of the landscape—gorgeous expanses bathed in golden light—both established his reputation and helped develop a visual lexicon for Australian artists.
Like most artists in Melbourne, Streeton studied at the National Gallery School, enrolling in night classes with G.F. Folingsby (1828-1891) at the age of fifteen. Between 1888 and 1890, he lived outside of the city, working in rural towns like Box Hill and Heidelberg with artists including Charles Conder (1868-1909), Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917), Tom Roberts (1856-1931) and Walter Withers (1854-1914). These men became firm friends, even referring to each other by nicknames – Roberts was ‘Bulldog’, McCubbin ‘The Proff’, Conder ‘K’ and Streeton ‘Smike’, which is how he signed Self Portrait. Streeton painted some of his most iconic works during this period, notably Golden Summer, Eaglemont 1889; this was the first painting by an Australian-born artist to be hung at the prestigious annual exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1891, an immensely significant moment in Australian art history.
Dated c1890, Self Portrait was produced during an important point in Streeton’s career. In August 1889, he became a household name with the landmark 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition in Melbourne, which he organised with Conder and Roberts. Named for the dimensions of the cedar cigar-box lids they painted their works on, this was a seminal collection of images, featuring broad, fluid brushwork. In 1890, the Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased Still Glides the Stream, and Shall For Ever Glide 1890, shortly after which Streeton moved to Sydney.
Self Portrait is an important work in Streeton’s ouevre, especially as he did not typically paint figures. It presents the image of a youthful Streeton, at around age twenty-four. In this full-length portrait, painted in profile, the artist posed with his right leg forward, appearing as if he were in motion. Fashionably attired in a suit, complete with hat and cane, the artist chose to paint himself dressed for town, rather than the work clothes he would have worn at the artist camps. Here, Streeton engages with the tradition of self-portraiture, and by using himself as a model, he conveyed both how he saw himself and how he wanted to be seen. Working on wood, as in many of his paintings at this time, Streeton did not focus on details, but rather sought to portray himself at a moment in time, to render faithfully ‘effects widely differing, and often of very fleeting character’.1
In 1897, Streeton travelled to London, where was based until 1923. In 1907, he insisted ‘give me rather the greyer greens of Australia, with the tips of bronze and gold. You'll never find our bronzes and golds anywhere else in the world’.2 Streeton was knighted in 1937, and his art is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, all state galleries and many regional collections. In 2015, Blue Pacific—another work from 1890—was the first Australian painting to be hung in the collection of the National Gallery in London.
1 The 9 x 5 Impression Exhibition, Melbourne, 1889.
2 ‘Our artists abroad: A chat with Arthur Streeton’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 December 1906, p.7.
Dr Kate Robertson, PhD University of Sydney
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