Henry Rielly was a foundation member of the Victorian Academy of Arts, exhibiting annually between 1870 and 1885. Woodland, vale and hillwas one of eleven works exhibited by Rielly in the 1874 Academy exhibition.1 He painted numerous scenes of the Yarra Valley and the regions surrounding Melbourneand this may be the location of Woodland, vale and hill. Rielly was a council member of the Academy and would have known the work of two other council members, Eugene von Guérard and Louis Buvelot, who also exhibited a number of paintings in the 1874 exhibition.
Rielly divided the composition of Woodland, vale and hill into five distinct areas: an open foreground of ground-growth, a band of dense woodland, a stretch of valley, a distant mountain range and a large cloud-filled sky. The artist has combined topographic detail with a naturalistic approach in this painting. Unlike Louis Buvelot, Rielly does not attempt to domesticate the landscape; instead, he includes wild horses grazing in the woodland. He has paid most attention to the foreground, portraying a type of gum tree with knarred limbs as well as scraggy foliage and thick ground-growth consistent with a swampy region.
In 2006 the National Gallery of Australia carried out extensive conservation treatment of this painting. It was discovered that two figures and a campfire had been added probably in the mid-twentieth century before the painting entered the National Collection. These elements were removed, revealing a second horse within the composition.
1 The fourth exhibition of the Victorian Academy of Arts, exhibition catalogue, 1874. Woodland, vale and hill listed as no. 52, p. 8.