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
Eugene VON GUÉRARD | North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko

Austria 1811 – England 1901-04-17
Italy 1830-1838 Germany 1838-1852 Australia 1852-1881, Germany 1882-1891 England from 1891
North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko
[View from Mount Kosciusko; South-east viewfrom Northern Top of Mount Koscius ko with Snow on Top; Summit of Mount Kosciusko, Australian Alps (see remarks]
oil on canvas
66.5 (h) x 116.8 (w) cm
frame 91 (h) x 141 (w) cm
signed and dated l.l., oil "Mt Kosciusko/ 19 Nov. 1862/ Eug. von Guerard"
Purchased 1973
NGA 1973.645
VIEW: Article |
Turner to Monet

The Australian Sketcher of November 1873 shows von Guérard’s grand Kosciusko painting displayed at the Vienna Exhibition with other contributions from the Australian colonies. It and another of the artist’s paintings, Cape Woolamai 1872, are surrounded by photographs and maps, produce, flora and fauna, as well as a case of mineral samples and other specimens of interest.1There is some irony here. Von Guérard detailed the lichen on rocks in North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko – most noticeably on the platform on which the cloaked figure stands – but other parts are less convincing.

When von Guérard arrived in Australia in 1852 he was already an established artist, having trained in Rome and Düsseldorf. He had probably seen works by Friedrich; Carus’s published writings also circulated widely during the 1830s and 1840s, the periods of von Guérard’s study at the Staatliche Kunstakademie. In his new southern homeland the artist familiarised himself with native flora by sketching in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, exactly the close observation of nature promoted by Carus. Von Guérard’s works are an intriguing mix of topographical accuracy and German traditions of the Sublime: we find a range of protagonists throughout his oeuvre, figures often tiny, seen at an angle or with their backs to the picture plane. As Bruce puts it, von Guérard thus synthesises active, intelligent observation with a ‘predominance of feeling over reasoning’.2

In 1862 von Guérard joined an expedition to the Australian Alps. Led by the Bavarian scientist Georg von Neumayer, the expedition was commissioned by the Government of Victoria, part of an international project to measure the Earth’s magnetic fields. As well as a geophysicist and an artist, the party comprised Neumayer’s assistant, two guides and his dog Hector – all of whom are immortalised in the painting. Von Guérard made a number of sketches during the course of the expedition. In Melbourne the following year he produced North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko.3It is a major painting, regarded as one of his finest artistically, and most accurate topographically.

In North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko areas of the foreground and the mound of large boulders at right are particularly perplexing. Indeed as Bonyhady tells, the rocks were introduced by von Guérard to emphasise human insignificance. They serve to provide a link between foreground, the distant mountains and the sky, that records the passage from heavy rain to bright sunshine.4Most importantly, in aesthetic terms, the rocks echo those on the peaks at the centre of the composition, gloriously patterned by the snow that has melted to reveal the grassy slopes underneath.

Mount Kosciusko, an anglicised spelling, was named by the explorer Count Paul Strzelecki in 1840 after the Polish-Lithuanian general Tadeusz Kociuszko.5 The peak was subsequently discovered to be slightly lower than its neighbour, Mount Townsend – although in order that Mount Kosciuszko retain the distinction of the highest mountain in Australia, the names were reversed.

Lucina Ward

1 The Australian Sketcher engraving is reproduced in Candice Bruce, Eugene von Guérard 1811–1901: a German romantic in the Antipodes Martinborough: Alister Taylor, 1982, p. 41; the present whereabouts of Cape Woolamai1872 is not known.

2 Bruce, p. 8.

3 Studies held Mitchell and Dixson collections, State Library of NSW; the canvas is inscribed ‘Mt Kosciusko/ 19 Nov. 1862/ Eug. von Guerard’, the date of the expedition.

4 Tim Bonyhady, Australian colonial paintings in the Australian National Gallery Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1986, pp. 188–98, 192–3.

5 In 1997 the Geographical Names Board of NSW adopted the spelling ‘Kosciuszko’; Australian pronunciation differs vastly from the Polish.