National Gallery of Australia | Audio Tour | Turner to Monet: the triumph of landscape



Audio guide to thirty-two works from the Turner to Monet: triumph of Landscape exhibition shown at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 14 July – 16 October 2006.


  • Gustav COURBET, Source of the Lison [La Source de la Lison] 1864

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Although a genius, Courbet was certainly a magnet for trouble. No other artist in nineteenth-century France so often found himself surrounded by controversy, apart from Edouard Manet – although Manet extricated himself, while Courbet seemed constantly enmeshed in scandal and uproar. But he was also firmly connected to the best artists working in the middle decades of the century, from Corot to Whistler, and Cézanne to Monet – he was even the witness at Monet’s wedding in 1870. Courbet remains the most radical painter of his time, while his work marks the rupture from Romanticism via Realism that produced modern art. A deep attachment to his native region inspired Courbet throughout his life, and is demonstrated in his art. He knew the farms near Ornans, the town and its people, and gloried in the rugged beauty of the Jura mountains in his eastern province of Franche-Comté. The rivers of the Jura, the Loue and the Lison, their limestone cliffs, grottoes, waterfalls and vegetation, provided a never-ending subj

  • Caspar FRIEDRICH, Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes [Two men looking at the moon] 1830s

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Two men on a hillside, standing on a stony outcrop, look at the crescent moon shining in a luminous sky. Framed between a strong, sinuous oak and an angular, spiky pine, the younger man leans on his companion’s shoulder, as though overcome by beauty. These are not detached scientific observers scrutinising a lunar phenomenon, but witnesses of God’s ever-surprising Nature. Instead of that scientific examination of natural phenomena so characteristic of German learning at the time, Friedrich’s painting is a parable of Christianity and paganism. The oak, used for heathen rituals, is dying; the evergreen pine, a symbol of Christianity, lives. The men are protected underneath its branches. Friedrich painted several versions of this scene, similar in composition although varying in character. The earliest known dates from 1819, another of a man and woman was made c. 1824, and at least two more were painted about 1830.1Friedrich’s friend Dahl refers to later versions by the artist and others in a letter of 26 Septe

  • Johan DAHL, Ausbruch des Vesuvs [Eruption of Vesuvius] 1823

    20/08/2008 Duration: 02min

    … this amazing mountain continues to exhibit such various scenes of sublimity and beauty at exactly the distance one would chuse to observe it from; a distance which almost admits examination, and certainly excludes immediate fear … columns of flame, high as the mountain’s self, shoot from its crater into the clear atmosphere with a loud and violent noise … a thick cloud, charged heavily with electric matter, passing over, met the fiery explosion … Hester Thrale, 17891 Mount Vesuvius was especially active in the late eighteenth and for most of the nineteenth century.2This fact, along with a growing awareness of the natural sciences in this period, meant the volcano attracted a great deal of interest. Indeed images of Vesuvius in various states of activity, as well as other scenes of uncontrollable nature – avalanches, storms, fires – became synonymous with the Sublime and with Romantic art. In the 1770s the English artist Joseph Wright of Derby, Frenchman Pierre-Jacques Volaire and German Jacob Philipp Hack

  • Frederic Edwin CHURCH, South American landscape 1856

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    This is a devotional image, paying homage to science, Nature and God. Huge in its pictorial implications, the painting is nonetheless modest in size. South American landscape is one of the ‘prototype’ South American subjects the thirty-year-old Church composed before embarking on his magisterial Heart of the Andes 1859, which lifted him to first place among American artists. In South American landscape Church responds to the renowned geographer Alexander Humboldt who identified the Andes as best portraying the separate ecologies that together made the global geography. Humboldt’s theory stemmed from an expedition to South America from 1799–1804, when he and his companions travelled from tropical jungle at sea level to mountains with permanent snow. Charles Darwin, travelling to South America thirty years later – with Humboldt’s writings in hand – found evidence that a parallel to Humboldt’s adaptive ecologies existed in biology. Church, visiting Colombia and Ecuador in 1853, deliberately set out to capture i

  • Paul CÉZANNE, Viaduct at l'Estaque [Le viaduct à l'Estaque] 1882

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    L’Estaque, a fishing village on the French coast of the Mediterranean, was a place that Cézanne visited often in the 1870s and 1880s. Why, amongst more picturesque features such as blue sea and a pretty village of ochre stone and red tiles, did the artist address such a difficult and unappealing prospect as this? A viaduct is only an overland passage between more dramatic features – under mountains or cliffs, through a valley or over a river far below – and this bridge for the railway track has none of the elegantly classical appeal of Corot’s Roman arches. Indeed, the viaduct is barely noticeable: it sits in the lowest band of the painting, the main horizontal of the composition. Perhaps it was, as always, simply because he could. The nature of beauty itself was changing as the century continued, from gentle to hard, from simple, lush and historic to complex, spare and modern. For Cézanne, eternal verities became mutable, and reality was filled with infinite possibilities. During February and March 1882 Pie

  • Georges SEURAT, Lucerne, Saint-Denis [La Luzerne, Saint-Denis] 1885

    20/08/2008 Duration: 02min

    Here we see a field of lucerne, the green crop infiltrated by red poppies. Along the skyline is strung a series of pale sheds and outbuildings under a silvery sky. In the distance is Saint-Denis, a suburb ten kilometres north of central Paris, which was industrialising rapidly in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The painting has a very high horizon line: Seurat depicts the plants as eighty per cent of the canvas. On the right against the sky is a small tree, and in the foreground a darker mass results from the shadow cast by a large tree behind the artist and the viewer. The luscious intensity of Seurat’s paintings is achieved by pure colour and his application of paint in small, organised strokes. The colour wheel was first elaborated by the chemist Chevreul in 1839, with red, blue and yellow being primary, and the mixtures violet, green and orange secondary colours. Each resulting hue can be lightened or darkened by white or black. Colour theory is based on the spectator’s changing perceptions,

  • Jules BASTIEN-LEPAGE, Snow effect, Damvillers [Effet de neige, Damvillers] c.1882

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    painting, oil on canvas, 43.0 (h) x 53.0 (w) cm, Museum purchase, Grover A. Magnin Bequest Fund.

  • Isaac JENNER, Cape Chudleigh, Coast of Labrador 1893, reworked 1895

    20/08/2008 Duration: 02min

    A large, ambitious scene of arctic exploration, imagined fifty years after the event and half a world away, seems an unlikely Australian project. Jenner, a self-taught English immigrant painter, tried to establish a cultivated artistic climate in Queensland at the end of the nineteenth century. Such grand history paintings, employing all the stratagems of the Sublime, would make the artist’s reputation unassailable, he thought, as well as serving another purpose, that of elevating public taste. His subject was Sir John Franklin’s doomed expedition of 1845, to find the fabled Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The venture fascinated the public, writers, and the press for decades; the British government, prodded by Lady Franklin, sent thirty-two expeditions to find the vanished explorers, Swinburne wrote a long poem in 1860, and Jules Verne published two novels inspired by the topic in the 1870s. Reports of cannibalism among survivors kept the story alive and scandalous. Jenner remembe

  • J M W TURNER, Waves breaking against the wind c.1835

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    By the early 1830s Turner was a regular visitor to the seaside town of Margate, on the eastern tip of the county of Kent, about seventy miles downriver from London. Turner’s first introduction to Margate came in the 1790s, when the place was essentially just a small fishing town, but it had since become a bustling resort that Londoners could reach effortlessly by steamboat in half a day. The geographic setting is remarkable, benefiting from a magnificently open prospect over the sea to the north and east, which allegedly induced Turner to claim that the skies in this area were among the loveliest in Europe. In addition to this natural prospect, the attractions of Margate were somewhat unorthodox for Turner, stemming from his clandestine relationship with Sophia Caroline Booth (1798–1875), a young widow, who was initially his landlady and subsequently his mistress and muse. From the windows of Mrs Booth’s lodging-house, near the harbour quay, Turner was able to watch the arrival and departure of the London st

  • Camille COROT, Bridge on the Saône River at Mâcon [also known as Village on the riverbank [Le Village au bord de la rivière]] 1834

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Corot was modest and chaste. He never married, in company was nearly always overlooked, the Salon ‘treated him rudely,’ and the only painting by him to enter the Luxembourg Museum was ‘bought almost accidentally by the state in 1851’.1Yet the great Charles Baudelaire was one of many who admired the qualities of simplicity and sureness in Corot’s art and personality – traits that were at the opposite extreme to Baudelaire’s flamboyance. Corot, he wrote, exerted complete control over his compositions, guaranteeing that every element would be well seen, well observed, well understood and well imagined.2 In Bridge on the Saône River at Mâcon the paint has been laid on directly and unaffectedly. This gives the small work a deceptive look of Impressionism. With their festive and casual appearance, Impressionist paintings were to make a holiday of looking. But Corot’s washerwomen on the river bank are not Monet’s or Manet’s holidaymakers lolling about and enjoying the sun. Likewise, Corot in front of nature seems a

  • Ivan SHISHKIN, A sandy coastline 1879

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Russian painters invented a new, heroic art of landscape in the second half of the nineteenth century. Shishkin demonstrates some of its elements in A sandy coastline: the painting holds an implied moral narrative with nationalist overtones. A few giant but slender pines inhabit the shoreline, their roots gripping into uncertain soil. Waves lap up the beach, unceasing tides which will eventually undermine the trees. Darkest sky lurks behind them, threatening an impending storm and, perhaps, oncoming night. Other trees still stand upon firmer ground in the grass, although many have been felled, hauled away for timber. Bright, intense light glares onto the sand and off the silhouetted trunks. This is nature’s drama, which twists the largest tree away from the viewer, while it withstands the continuous assault of wind and water. Shishkin was a highly-accomplished painter, who trained in the Classical fine art academies of Moscow and St Petersburg from 1852 to 1860. He then studied in Munich, Prague and Düsseldo

  • Théodore ROUSSEAU, Under the birches, evening [Sous les hêtres le soir] 1842-43

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Rousseau began to paint Under the birches, evening in Berry in central France, at the lowest point of his official artistic career. After initial success at the Paris Salon from 1831 to 1835, all of his works were refused between 1836 and 1841. Discouraged, he then refrained from submitting works to the jury until after the 1848 Revolution, when the selection system was reformed. The artist then received an official commission, subsequent acceptance at the Salon, and honours from the state. In the early 1840s, however, when this painting was executed, Rousseau’s dreams of winning the Prix de Rome were over; nonetheless he continued to paint, in his own way. The atmosphere and charm of Under the birches, evening also characterise the artist’s better-known sojourns in the Forest of Barbizon, a place identified with Rousseau for three decades. In summer he worked outdoors in a little hut made for him, painting studies and sketches that were then finished in his studio in Paris.1 Most striking in the composition

  • Maximilien LUCE, Camaret, moonlight and fishing boats [Camaret. Clair de lune et flotille péche] 1894

    20/08/2008 Duration: 02min

    Luce used landscape compositions such as Camaret, moonlight and fishing boats to explore formal issues of colour and light as well as his own political concerns. The painting depicts fishing boats at night in the protected harbour of Camaret, a small fishing village in Brittany on the Atlantic coast. It is executed in Luce’s characteristic divisionist style, distinguished by the building up of the painted surface using separate brushstrokes of colour. The artist employs varying shades of green and periwinkle blue, along with pink and yellow for the night sky. Violet, blue, turquoise and deep pink splotches, along with green and lemon-yellow strokes serve for the areas of shadowed and moonlit water. Deep blues, purples and near-blacks make up the silhouetted shapes of the fishing boats. By 1887 Luce had adopted the divisionist technique first developed by Seurat, a fellow French Neo-Impressionist artist. The technique was based on theories about colour and seeing, which asserted that the eye would blend colou

  • J M W TURNER, Crossing the brook 1815

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Turner looks to Claude Lorrain, the great artistic model of seventeenth-century Classical landscape painting, for his composition of Crossing the brook. Devices include framing trees to left and right, while Turner also uses light to lead the eye through a curving central valley until it meets a limpid white sky, which dissipates upwards into palest blue. Dark planes intersect in the foreground across the front of the water, down through the foliage and tunnel path on the right. A spotlight picks out three figures who ford the brook: one girl has waded across, then looks back to her dog in midstream. The animal helps by carrying her basket, while another young woman prepares on the far bank by removing her shoes and tucking up her dress. Further along the valley are an aqueduct and large waterwheel. We are not in the Roman campagna, however, but rather in an equivocal English Arcadia. The brook leads into the River Tamar, which divides Devon from Cornwall, while the arches belong to Calstock Bridge. The whee

  • Vincent VAN GOGH, Tree trunks in the grass [Boomstammen in het grass] 1890

    20/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Van Gogh’s extraordinary and tragic life, his feelings and thoughts revealed in prolific correspondence, often overwrites the material reality of his paintings. He was a pioneer of modern art, using the genres of landscape, portraiture and still life to experiment with form and colour. Here, in an extraordinary close-up rendition of urban nature, Tree trunks in the grass, Van Gogh reinvigorates the landscape format by looking down into it instead of outwards, and thus eliminates both horizon and sky. He wrote about the painting in a letter to his brother Theo in early May 1890, in which he also details a planned journey from the asylum at Saint-Rémy to the care of Dr Gachet at Auvers-sur-Oise: … my work is going well, I have done two canvases of the fresh grass in the park, one of which is extremely simple, here is a hasty sketch of it. The trunk of a pine violet-pink and then the grass with white flowers and dandelions, a little rose tree and other tree trunks in the background right at the top of the canv

  • Johan DAHL, Cloud Study [Wolkenstudie] 1832

    19/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Dahl came to Dresden in 1818 from the Copenhagen Academy. He soon joined the circle of the Dresden Romantics, centred around Friedrich and Carus. Friedrich’s immediate influence can be seen clearly in Dahl’s works from this period. His initial cloud studies in Dresden show the same delicate, atmospheric handling of the sky that can be observed in Friedrich’s landscapes. It was not until his visit to Italy in 1820–21, however, that Dahl first found his own expressive style. From that time onwards his paintings demonstrate the characteristic use of colour and painterly freedom that even Friedrich admired and sometimes emulated. From 1823 Dahl lived in Dresden in the same house as Friedrich. From the studio window of his apartment he had an unrestricted view over the River Elbe, a fact that was influential in stimulating his interest in cloud studies. He undertook a large series of studies of the sky at different times of day and under various weather conditions. He painted most of these studies using a smaller

  • Tom ROBERTS, Evening, when the quiet east flushes faintly at the sun's last look (1887-88)

    19/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Roberts’s return to Melbourne in 1885, after four years’ study in Europe, marked the end of his long artistic apprenticeship. By the age of twenty-nine he had developed a sophisticated eye and an exceptional technical facility that enabled him to capture the appearance of things. He was also a proselytiser and, back home, looked up his old friend Frederick McCubbin (1855–1917) and enthused him about the European style of plein-air painting. Together they established a weekend painting camp on Houston’s Farm at Box Hill, some sixteen kilometres from the city. It was a primitive approximation to the artists’ colonies of Europe and America, but quickly became a hub of the new painting in Melbourne. Many of the first great works of the Australian Impressionist movement were painted there, in or near the patch of remnant bushland on Gardiners Creek where the camp was located. Paintings such as McCubbin’s Lost1and Roberts’s own A summer morning tiff2 and Wood splitters3captured the intimacy and patchy sunlight of

  • Arthur STREETON, Fire's on [also known as 'Fire's on' (Lapstone Tunnel)] 1891

    19/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    It is astonishing to think that Streeton was only twenty-four years old when he painted ‘Fire’s on’, a work that remains one of the great icons of Australian landscape painting. When Streeton wrote to his friend Frederick McCubbin (1855–1917) about the work he was undertaking in the Blue Mountains, his excitement and ambition were palpable. It was the quintessentially Australian landscape and light that inspired him: ‘the vast hill of bright sandstone’ crowned by bush and the ‘deep blue azure heaven’.1Streeton was also taken with the fact that this landscape was the location of one of the engineering feats of the late nineteenth century, the construction of the ‘Zig Zag’ railway line across the Great Dividing Range and a new tunnel that would make this part of the country more accessible. Towards the end of 1891 Streeton spent three months at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains undertaking numerous sketches and watercolours. By the time he came to paint ‘Fire’s on’, he had familiarised himself with the terrain a

  • Eugene VON GUÉRARD, Milford Sound, New Zealand (1877-79)

    19/08/2008 Duration: 01min

    Von Guérard sailed into Milford Sound on the SS Otago on the evening of Monday 24 January 1876. The passengers on the eagerly anticipated four-and-a-half day voyage from Melbourne were not disappointed. Myriad waterfalls dashed down the steep sides of the granite peaks, following recent rain, and the clouds lifted to reveal Mitre Peak and Mt Pembroke – their towering forms reflected in the mirror-like surface of the fiord. The Otago dropped anchor by Bowen Falls at 7 pm. Von Guérard ‘at once had himself conveyed to an island’ where he executed sketches, and three drawings documented with notes on colour and vegetation, before the midsummer sun finally set.1From his chosen viewpoint he developed a panoramic composition of a series of pyramidal forms that stretch across the canvas, rising above the line of the water and reflected in it. Through the power and austerity of the composition, von Guérard communicates the monumental scale and geological age of the dark, angular rocky peaks, the depths of the fiord a

  • Paul GAUGUIN, Haystacks in Brittany [Meules de foin en Bretagne] 1890

    19/08/2008 Duration: 02min

    Here in Brittany the peasants have a medieval air about them and do not for a moment look as though they think that Paris exists and it is 1889 Gauguin, letter to Van Gogh, 18891 Haystacks in Brittany is among a small number of works painted by Gauguin in 1890 at Le Pouldu, on the Breton coast. From July 1886 until his departure for Tahiti in March 1891, Gauguin travelled regularly between Paris and towns in Brittany and Provence – the latter the site of his notorious collaboration with Van Gogh – searching for a way to consolidate his style, as well as a place to live cheaply. He stayed at Le Pouldu, some twenty kilometres south-west of Pont-Aven, late in 1889 and during 1890. The works he painted there, images of peasant life, the landscape and harvest scenes, are some of the most radically simplified of his career. Gauguin described how he ‘scrutinised the horizons, seeking that harmony of human life with animal and vegetable life through compositions in which I allowed the great voice of the earth to pl

page 1 from 2