Mt William from Mt Dryden, Victoria

Eugene Von GUÉRARD: artist

Not On Display

About the work

Eugene von Guerard was the son of the court painter to the Emperor of Austria, Franz I, and with his father left Vienna in 1826 for Italy. When they arrived in Naples his father established himself as a painter at the court, only to die in the 1836 cholera epidemic.

The son remained in Italy for a while, then went to Germany and studied in Dusseldorf, one of the principal teaching centres in Europe. The German romanticism which flourished, and held that each landscape must have spiritual content and contain a mystical element of soul, remained his philosophical style throughout his life.

On the advice of an Englishman who employed him briefly he went to London and joined a group leaving for the goldfields in Australia, arriving in Melbourne in 1852. At first he sought gold at Ballarat and made sketches there, but after sixteen months of depressingly unsuccessful results he went to Melbourne to establish himself as a painter.

Melbourne was a town of crass commercialism with little concern for the cultural side of life, so von Guerard found it difficult to support a wife and daughter on sales of landscapes. Commissions from affluent landowners to record their valuable properties and country homesteads were therefore a welcome source of income and form a valuable contribution to Australian history.

Von Guerard made many excursions into remote areas, sometimes accompanying surveying expeditions. Numerous journeys in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and New Zealand gave him the means to create a wealth of superb topographical landscapes.

In 1870 he was appointed Curator of the Melbourne Gallery and Master of the Painting School. Noted as a teacher of academic principles, criticism of his teaching methods grew as the freer spontaneous capturing of natural effects outdoors gained acceptance and he resigned in 1881. With his wife and daughter he went to Europe, travelled in Italy again and settled in Dusseldorf. Later he moved to England, where he went to live with his married daughter, and he died in London.

Von Guerard wrote, 'An artist should, so far as it is compatible with the effect of a picture, imitate nature, not only in the masses but also in the details'(1).

Von Cuerard's belief is clearly demonstrated in this painting, Mt William from Mt Dryden, Victoria. He has attained absolute communion with nature through the meticulous recording of every feature. The mood is directed to the sublimity of mountains and sky, with tranquillity symbolised by the bird poised in the air.
The glow of the sky reflects gently on the landscape as a tender pervading light coming from the right. This leads the viewer from right to left, following the diagonals along the treetops and rocks in the foreground, repeated in treetops beyond them, drawing the eye to the distant mountain peaks. At the base of the hills, the tops of the range and the line of clouds, long horizontals counteract this insistent direction.

Although the landscape appears untouched by humanity, the European fox stalking the native kangaroos introduces the theme of the baleful influence of predators brought in by settlement. Paintings such as this were worked up in thern studio from industrious sketches of the landscape and reveal the artist's scrupulous, conscientious observation of every plant, leaf, or stone, wholly at the service of extolling the nobility of nature.

Ella Fry, Gallery Images, St George Books, Perth, 1984

Reference: (1) Eugene von Guerard to James Smith, July 1870, dune Galleries Catalogue, 1972.
Mt William from Mt Dryden, Victoria
Artist/Maker and role
Eugene Von GUÉRARD: artist
oil on canvas
61.5 x 91.5 cm (sight)
76.2 x 106 x 7 cm (framed)
Credit line
Purchased 1971
The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Accession number

This is one of the paintings in our collection.