Arthur Ernest Streeton
Arthur Ernest Streeton
8 April 1867
Mount Duneed, Victoria, Australia
|Died||1 September 1943 (aged 76)|
Olinda, Victoria, Australia
Streeton was born in Duneed, Victoria, south-west of Geelong, on 8 April 1867 the fourth child of Charles Henry and Mary (née Johnson) Streeton. His family moved to Richmond in 1874. His parents had met on the voyage from England in 1854. In 1882, Streeton commenced art studies with G. F. Folingsby at the National Gallery School.. On the 2nd of June 1890, he sailed to Sydney, Summer Hill and stayed there with his sister.
Streeton was influenced by French Impressionism and the works of J.M.W. Turner. During this time he began his association with fellow artists Frederick McCubbin and Tom Roberts – at Melbourne including at Box Hill and Heidelberg. In 1885 Streeton presented his first exhibition at the Victorian Academy of Art. He found employment as an apprentice lithographer under Charles Troedel.
In the summer drought of 1888, Streeton travelled by train to the attractive agricultural and grazing suburb of Heidelberg, 11 km north-east of Melbourne's city centre. He intended to walk the remaining distance to the site where Louis Buvelot painted his 1866 work Summer afternoon near Templestowe, which Streeton considered "the first fine landscape painted in Victoria". On the return journey to Heidelberg, wet canvas in hand, Streeton met Charles Davies, brother-in-law of friend and fellow plein air painter David Davies. Charles gave him "artistic possession" of an abandoned homestead atop the summit of Mount Eagle estate, offering spectacular views across the Yarra Valley to the Dandenongs. For Streeton, Eaglemont (as it became known) was the ideal working environment—a reasonably isolated rural location accessible by public transport. The house itself could be seen by visitors as they arrived at Heidelberg railway station.
Streeton spent the first few nights at Eaglemont alone with the estate's tenant farmer Jack Whelan (who appears in Streeton's "pioneer" painting The selector's hut (Whelan on the log), 1890), and slept upon the floor, the rooms being bare of furniture. Of his first few nights at the house, Streeton said it was "creaking and ghostly. A long dark corridor seemed full of past visions, and out of doors a blurred rich blackness against the sharp brilliance of the Southern Cross ... But tobacco and wine weighed healthily against the darkness". He descended the hill daily to Heidelberg village for meals before jaunting into the bush with a billycan of milk and swag of paints and canvases. The first artists to paint with Streeton at Eaglemont were the National Gallery students Aby Altson and John Llewelyn Jones, followed by John Mather and Walter Withers. Like Streeton, Withers painted from nature amidst suburban bush around Melbourne, employing earthy colours with loose, impressionistic brushstrokes. By the end of 1888, he became a weekend visitor to the camp.
About the same time, Streeton met the artist Charles Conder, who travelled down from Sydney in October 1888 at the invitation of Tom Roberts. One year Streeton's junior, Conder was already a committed plein airist, having been influenced by the painterly techniques of expatriate impressionist Girolamo Nerli. Conder and Roberts joined Streeton at Eaglemont in January 1889 and helped make some modest improvements to the house. Despite austere living conditions, Streeton felt content: "Surrounded by the loveliness of the new landscape, with heat, drought, and flies, and hard pressed for the necessaries of life, we worked hard, and were a happy trio." Streeton and Conder quickly became friends and influenced one another's art. Their shared love of South Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon's lyrical verse is revealed in the titles of some of their Eaglemont paintings, including Streeton's romantic gloaming work ′Above us the great grave sky′ (1890, taken from Gordon's poem "Doubtful Dreams"). Later, critics would describe some of the pair's Eaglemont paintings as companion pieces, as both artists often painted the same views and subjects using a high-keyed "gold and blue" palette, which Streeton considered "nature's scheme of colour in Australia".
Two of Streeton's best-known works were painted during this period—Golden Summer, Eaglemont (1889) and ′Still glides the stream, and shall for ever glide′ (1890)—each a sunlit pastoral scene of golden-paddocked plains stretching to the distant blue Corhanwarrabul. In 1891, Arthur Merric and Emma Minnie of the Boyd artistic dynasty took Golden Summer, Eaglemont to Europe where it became the first painting by an Australian-born artist to be exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, and was awarded a Mention honourable at the 1892 Paris Salon.
In 1897 Streeton sailed for London on the Polynesien, stopping at Port Said before continuing on via Cairo and Naples. He held an exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1900 and became a member of the Chelsea Arts Club in 1903. Although he had developed a considerable reputation in Australia, he failed to achieve the same success in England. His trips to London were financed by the sales of his paintings at home in Australia. His time in England reinforced a strong sense of patriotism towards the British Empire and, like many, anticipated the coming war with Germany with some enthusiasm. In 1906, Streeton returned to Australia and completed some paintings at Mount Macedon in February 1907 before going back to London in October. Paintings done in Venice in September 1908 were exhibited in Australia in July 1909 as "Arthur Streeton's Venice". In Australia again in April 1914 he held exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne and went back to England in early 1915.
Along with other members of the Chelsea Arts Club, including Tom Roberts, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (British Army) at the age of 48. He worked at the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth and reached the rank of corporal.
Streeton was made an Australian Official War Artist with the Australian Imperial Force, holding the rank of Honorary Lieutenant, and he travelled to France on 14 May 1918 and was attached to the 2nd Division, receiving his movement order on 8 May 1918. He worked in France, with a break in August, until October 1918. Expected by the Commonwealth to produce sketches and drawings that were "descriptive", Streeton concentrated on the landscape of the scenes of war and did not attempt to convey the human suffering. Unlike the more famous military art depicting the definitive moments of battle, Streeton produced "military still life", capturing the everyday moments of the war. Streeton explained what was at that time an unconventional point of view – a perspective which was based in experience:
|“||True pictures of battlefields are very quiet looking things. There's nothing much to be seen, everybody and thing is hidden and camouflaged.||”|
After the war, Streeton resumed painting in the Grampians and Dandenong Ranges. Streeton built a house on five acres (20,000 m²) at Olinda in the Dandenongs where he continued to paint. He won the Wynne Prize in 1928 with Afternoon Light, Goulburn Valley. He was an art critic for The Argus from 1929 to 1935 and in 1937 was knighted for services to the arts. He married Esther Leonora Clench, a Canadian violinist, in 1908. Streeton died in September 1943. He is buried at Ferntree Gully cemetery.
Streeton Drive, a main thoroughfare in Weston Creek is named after Sir Arthur.
Streeton Primary School in the Melbourne suburb of Yallambie is named after Streeton.
Streeton's works appear in many major Australian galleries and museums, including the National Gallery of Australia and state galleries, and the Australian War Memorial. In September 2015, Streeton's Coogee clifftop landscape Blue Pacific (1890) became the first painting by an Australian artist, and only the second painting by a Western artist outside Europe, to hang in the permanent collection of the National Gallery, London. It sits alongside major impressionist works by Claude Monet and Édouard Manet.
Streeton's paintings are amongst the most collectible of Australian artists and attracted high prices during his lifetime. Golden Summer, Eaglemont sold for around 1000 guineas in 1924 and in 1995 it was bought in a private sale by the National Gallery of Australia for A$3.5 million, both times setting a sales record for an Australian painting. In 1985, Settler's Camp sold at auction for A$800,000 and this remained the record auction price for Streeton's work until 23 May 2005, when his 1890 painting, Sunlight Sweet, Coogee, was sold for A$2.04 million (A$1.853 million before tax), becoming only the second painting by an Australian artist to exceed the A$2 million mark at auction (after Frederick McCubbin's 1892 work Bush Idyll, which sold for A$2.3 million in 1998). The painting was part of the Foster's Group collection and was sold at auction by Sotheby's.
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