Fern Tree Gully, Cape Otway Ranges

Eugene Von GUÉRARD: artist

Not On Display

About the work

This painting is based on sketches made by the artist ten years earlier at Wild Dog Creek in the Cape Otway region on the southern part of Victoria’s western coast. The making of detailed sketches was an important part of von Guérard’s practice, one which he had adopted during his training in Düsseldorf, Germany in the 1830s and 1840s. The details of the large 1859 sketch were followed closely in this painting, with the exception of the substitution of the figure of the Aboriginal woman and child for the sketch’s image of one of the artist’s travelling companions. (August 2018)

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).

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

Reference: (1) Eugene von Guerard to James Smith, July 1870, dune Galleries Catalogue, 1972.
Fern Tree Gully, Cape Otway Ranges
Artist/Maker and role
Eugene Von GUÉRARD: artist
c 1869
oil on canvas
91.0 x 137.0 cm (sight)
119.0 x 165.0 cm (framed)
Credit line
Purchased through the Sir Claude Hotchin Art Foundation, The Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 1999
The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Accession number

This is one of the paintings in our collection.