Shadows, landscape with trees is an atmospheric and intimate study of nature belonging to a series of ‘tree paintings’ completed by Max Meldrum between 1917 and 1925. In this work Meldrum has captured a slice of a larger scene, and has used the tree-trunks to frame and balance his composition. Omitting branches and foliage, he has paid close attention to the patches of dark shadow and dappled light on the grassy hill.
Meldrum was a Melbourne artist and teacher who championed a theory of painting based on the importance of tonal values. He believed it was the artist’s task to observe nature accurately and that painting was an application of the science of optical truth and tonal relations. He believed that there were no lines in nature and that they should therefore be abolished from art. As a student Meldrum was awarded the 1899 National Gallery School Travelling Scholarship which enabled him to go to Paris and see works by artists including Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velázquez, Corot and Whistler. Meldrum’s interest in these artists and in the realist tradition of art had a deep impact on his theories of ‘depictive’ art – of understanding and creating an image of what we see.1
Meldrum returned to Melbourne in 1911 and by 1916 had established his own art school where he taught artists including A. E. Newbury and Clarice Beckett. He had an argumentative personality and the opinions he expressed in his many public talks polarised the Melbourne art community. In 1919 he published his theories (based on a 1917 lecture titled ‘The invariable truths of depictive art’) in a book, Max Meldrum: his art and views.
1 Peter Perry & John Perry, Max Meldrum and associates: their art, lives and influences, Victoria: Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum, 1996, pp. 20–21.