DETAIL : 
Martin Johnson HEADE  
United States of America 1819 � 1904-09-04  
Sunlight and shadow: the Newbury Marshes c.1871-75, oil on canvas National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. John Wilmerding Collection (Promised Gift). Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
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EXHIBITION GROUPING : GALLERY 1 | GALLERY 2 | GALLERY 3 | GALLERY 4 | GALLERY 5 | GALLERY 6 |

Gallery 4:

Floods, bushfires and shipwrecks show the immediate experience of disaster. The intensity and power of nature emphasises the puny efforts of humanity. Here we can see how notions of the Romantic Sublime persist into the second half of the century. Turner’s increasingly abstract paintings, investigating transient manifestations of light and water, seem surprisingly modern. These aspects of his work were much admired by later artists, including the Impressionists. Von Guérard recorded himself as a witness to the drama of bushfire, while Jenner’s grand history tableau of the doomed Franklin expedition of 1845, Cape Chudleigh, Coast of Labrador, was produced five decades after the fact. The quintessentially Australian light of Streeton’s masterly ‘Fire’s on’ masks the horror of the industrial accident below.

A salient feature of the artists of the Barbizon School is their realism. Two of Courbet’s best known motifs, grottoes and waves, are rendered in thick paint applied with a palette knife. The impact of plein air painting is particularly important. Corot’s oil sketches, especially those produced in the clear light of Italy, are unexpected in their simplicity. His freshness and observational accuracy exhibits the immediacy associated with Impressionism. Rousseau and Daubigny likewise record the effect of light on trees and water. Daubigny painted French river scenes repeatedly, his innovation being to paint light on the Seine from the vantage point of his studio-boat. For their travels in Europe, the painters of the Heidelberg School absorbed aspects of this new way of looking. Back in Australia, they experimented with a range of short, broken brushstrokes to capture the fleeting nature of the moment.