Louis BUVELOT: artist

On Display

About the work

Louis Buvelot was born in Switzerland and came from there to Australia in 1865 at the age of fifty-one, to settle in Melbourne. The journey was undertaken because his health had been affected by years in a tropical climate and he needed warmer conditions than those in his native country.

Much of his life had been spent in Brazil, where his uncle had a plantation, and it was a family arrangement that Louis should live there after nine months studying art in Paris. He achieved recognition and success in Brazil, also in Switzerland on his return after eighteen years' absence.

Six years later, in 1858, he went to India and the East Indies in search of conditions more suited to his health, but again returned to Europe, eventually deciding that the climate in Australia would be beneficial.

After first earning a living in Melbourne as a photographer he was able to concentrate on his painting, since his wife earned enough as a teacher of French to free him from supporting them both by onerous and monotonous work. He soon gained support and attracted much attention and respect by the excellence of his painting.

Buvelot never learnt to speak English and his wife managed their business affairs. This she did with acumen, energy and sympathy, because she too was an artist, sharing in a marriage of mutual devotion.

He worked in oils, watercolour, sepia, pencil and charcoal; he retained a European, almost classical approach, arranging pictures into harmonious reposeful compositions. While not depicting a full realisation of the peculiar qualities of the Australian light and colour, he did move far towards such mastery.

His work marks the beginning of realism in Australian painting, as a reaction from the artificial sentimentality in so many of the anecdotal pictures. He had an affinity with artists of the Barbizon School who rejected the procedure of painting exclusively in the studio from sketches, in favour of painting directly from nature. Buvelot's paintings are important for his application of good design principles, his ability to compose with breadth and dignity while recording much detail, and for the lyrical quality which imbues the realism of these scenes of rural tranquillity.

He had a great influence on the painters after him, who recognised that his technical skill was allied to poetic vision. Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin acknowledged him as the father of Australian landscape painting. McCubbin wrote: 'There was no one before him to point out the way; he possessed, therefore, in himself, the genius to catch and understand the salient living features of the country. I remember as if it were yesterday, standing one evening a long time ago, watching the sunset glowing in the trees in Studley Park, and it was largely through Buvelot that I realized the beauty of the scene'.(1)

In Australian Landscape we find an approach which differs from that of the earlier artists, whose aim was for more exact and precise topography. Here there is a romantic atmosphere emphasised by the contrasts of soft illumination and deep shadows.

The softened edges of the distant hills and other contours are typical of the manner in which the naturalism of the Barbizon school influenced this painter. Recollections of European topography are still to be seen, but there is a recognisable search for the structure of Australian trees and foliage.
The picture has a strong diagonal composition, relieved by balancing vertical and horizontal elements, the details being treated with a sure, delicate touch, as on the figure and sheep. These are incidental to the landscape and take their place almost casually to create the pastoral setting. It was only in the process of cleaning by the Gallery's conservation section that they were revealed afresh as a human embellishment of the scene.
Throughout the painting Buvelot's art is revealed by masterly handling so that all the elements are brought together to form a harmonious whole, unified by the glowing light of the sky, reflected on the water and the foreground and so relating all parts of the landscape. The pervasive mood is one of a gentle love of nature.

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

Reference: (1) The Art of Frederick McCubbin, Melbourne, 1916, quoted in The Story of Australian Art, by William Moore (Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1934).
Artist/Maker and role
Louis BUVELOT: artist
oil on canvas
76.2 x 101.6 cm
Credit line
Purchased 1970
The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Accession number

This is one of the paintings in our collection.