Finding Eugene Von Guerard

Now for another history lesson, and probably my favourite Artist.
Eugene Von Guerard arrived in Victoria, determined to try his luck on the Victorian Goldfields. As a gold-digger he was unsuccessful, but he did produce a large number of intimate studies of goldfields life, quite different from the deliberately awe-inspiring landscapes for which he was later to become famous. Realising that there were opportunities for an artist in Australia, von Guerard abandoned the diggings and was soon undertaking lucrative commissions recording the dwellings and properties of wealthy pastoralists.

This was a time when Europeans first started to settle Western Victoria and the landscape would have been in far contrast to what exists today.
The last of the Aboriginal people would have been moved off the land after a dreadful period over the previous 2 decades.
Von Guerard would have been the first and last person to have the opportunity to paint the natural landscape before the clear felling.

My intention for Saturday was to find the location where Von Guerard painted probably my favourite landscape.
It is a view in the Southern Grampians looking right down too Signal Peak and Mt Abrupt.
The general location was easy to find with my local knowledge, however finding the exact location is a little different.
To make matters worse the vegetation has dramatically changed and speaking to an art student a few weeks back he mentioned that Von Guerard was renowned for manipulating, enhancing and creating detail in his paintings.

Therefore in my conclusion, he made it to this point/peak and painted as much as he could during the day, and finished off later on from memory.
As some of the peaks are very are more jagged than in reality and the foreground general layout of rocks are correct but very different in appearance.
The other thing was that the heathland in the foreground depicts a river runing through it, whereas the current river is further tot he right where all the trees are.
However that could even be a result of Aboriginal burning regimes at the time.


Source of the Wannon, 1866.
Source of the Wannon, 2008.

A better view from a lower elevation.

9 thoughts on “Finding Eugene Von Guerard

  1. Great post again, thanks Thomas. Love his painting and your work in finding the spot he clearly painted from.

    It’s interesting to hear he was renowned for “manipulating” his paintings. Exactly the same photoshop vs no-photoshop rage you hear about landscape photographers. It’s art, not photojournalism so I think the whole debate is pointless and reality in a photo doesn’t exist anyway. I find people tend to think paintings are art and not reality, where as photos somehow have to be reality and if you used photoshop for anything it’s “cheating”. Funny to hear a painter being renowned for the same ‘cos I always ask people why they don’t hold Picasso to the same standard.

    Great post mate.

  2. Thanks Sean,
    Thanks Flemming, and the photoshop point is what I was hoping to raise. Clearly artists didn’t have enough time in the day to paint a realist impression, so therefore when they finished the painting away from the location they provided their interpretation of the location. I think photography is just a slightly more accurate portrayal of the location just with the colours manipulated. Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation I feel as Von Guerard used a very soft pastel array of colours.

  3. Great to find this little post. Was this spot near Talbot road? I have been chasing and occasionally finding Eugen (no e on birth certificate) von Guerards painting locations for the last few years . I photograph them because it is interesting to compare the vision of the eye, the camera and his paintings and also to record the rape of the land over the last 150 years. I am fussy and need to find the excact same rock – it’s madness.
    Eugen did not paint in these locations. He sketched them with lots of notes re colour etc., often making several. These sketches were then committed to canvas in his studio. I have found that he was pretty faithful to his sketched notes and general terms to the landforms. Although he could do colour enhancement with the best of the romantics. He has been accused to do compilations, but I have only found 1 site in the grampians that I cant find (and suspect he used his well travelled binoculars for that painting called ‘ Mount Rouse (Rose) in the Serra Mountains’ . His object was to ‘not improve on Gods work’ but he did used technical means to make his paintings work. In his ‘Mt Arapiles’ he places a big rock into the right hand forgeground – to stop the landscape sliding out of the lower right. The rocks in the Talbot site you show have been arranged in his signature semi circle , framing the foreground. But I bet there actually were some rocks. In his day science and religion as well as Humbolds philosophies influenced the German romantic movement that typefies his work.
    I hate the fact that because one intellectual long ago decided to call him Eugene – his actual name is Eugen Johann Joseph is never attributed. Even the idiosincratic but quite awful painter ‘Pro’ Hart is now acknowledge as Charles in art history, while a major artist like Eugen can not manage that bit of dignification. Check his work out in a library if you are interested in colonial landscapes painting techniques.
    Sorry your topic invited me to have a bit of a rave!

  4. Hi Karin,
    Thank you for your comment.
    This location is off Yarram Gap Road, therefore he would have painted this scene around the time of his Muirhead Swamp looking towards the Major Mitchell Plateau that is just to the east only a few kilometres away. The interesting thing was I found the remnants of a rock cairn that is very old and may have been the only physical sign he was there, that is if he made it.
    I spent a good hour there, looking for the location, and the best location that fits was where the middle image was taken. However the foreground doesn’t completely match up, its very similar but not exact. Thats why I made the conclusion that he finished the painting somewhere else.
    The other points of interest are the exaggerated crests of the peaks on the right hand side (Serra Range) and Mt Arupt to the south which is actually more domed.

    I was photographing at 17mm so that makes the further subjects appear more distant.

    I was reading that Von Guerards view from Mt Rouse looking north was only recently found in England.

    I am now sourcing Von Guerards Muirhead Swamp painting. His Mount Dryden Shot towards Mt William will be easy, and his Roses Gap will be hard to find, but I have an rough idea.

    Do you know if he painted any more scenes of the Grampians?

    I am not really interested in his background, style etc, I just think his work is invaluable record of what the natural landscape once look like, he visited many areas that relate directly back to me.


    1. Hi Tom
      I had completely forgotten about this until yesterday when sorting my von Guerard files.
      He also painted ‘Mount Abrupt’ from just south of Penhurst, where he also did some Homesteads.
      The ‘view from Mt Rouse looking north’ is a puzzle or a misnomer. It is certainly not the view from Mt Rouse, which is quite a few km south of the Grampians. Some think it is from Mt Rosea looking south or a point in the Mount Difficult range. This painting and many others are illustrated in Dacre Smyths ‘In the footsteps of von Guerard (1983) which is still available if you look on the net. I have found that book really useful, it inspired me to do what you are doing : Over the last 10 years I have found and photographed most of the locations shown in that book and some others. It’s a challenge and a great way to appreciate the landscape past and present.

  5. Awesome post Thomas.
    You have an obvious love for the art work of this painter, and especially the Grampians. They really appear spectacular! That is one nice painting too. It is funny the similarities, yet total difference to the landscape in your images. It’s amazing the difference in vegetation too.

    It’s a very true point on photoshop too. There is one thing that always gets lost in the argument though. As you’ve probably picked up, I don’t work any of my images. It’s not because I consider it cheating, or anything along those lines. I enjoy every image I see for what it is, whether worked or unworked. I do tend to sway toward more natural images as that is more of what i like. There have been many “fake” images I love as well though.

    To my point, Photography at the end of the day is what you feel good with. You have an aim of what you want to achieve, and you try your best to get it. Whether that be HDR, heavily photoshopped, slightly photoshopped or none at all. There is no correct way, sorry, I should say they are ALL correct ways.

    There really shouldn’t be any judgment just because someone does one way or another. I know there are photographers who say that ALL photoshop work is bad, and vice versa (the amount of times i’ve heard you should do this, that and then “why don’t you?!”). Which is a bit sad. I guess it will continue to be an issue as long as humans are involved though won’t it….

    Sorry for my rant as well 😛
    You’re a reasonable bloke, so will know what I mean. Even though it actually doesn’t have anything directly to do with yourself, or the majority of the photographic community. Most are extremely reasonable on that front.

    I’m going to struggle finding time in the day if both you and Flem keep doing long posts like this haha. Nah they’re good. Nice work!

  6. Thanks Stephen for the time you put into your reply.
    I am very passionate about the Grampians, its a big part of me.

    You are right is saying that they are all correct methods.
    Different Lens’ interpret the subject differently, manual and automatic cameras setting interpret the subject differently. All I believe in it is that if the photographer is happy with it is a photo. It’s not like the the public or consumer are forced to purchase or like every image. But there would always be a niche for all work.

    The topic reminds me of a simple marketing problem in every tourist town. You can have a really crap washed out postcard of the twelve apostles, and a great quality postcard say by a ‘Christian Fletcher’ 90% of the time you would sell the washed out crappy postcard. Target audiences are that big that there is always a niche, except in Perth where there are too many photographers for one town. So the majority of the crowd are just not interested in quality photography, that’s why I don’t worry about it. Christian, Ken Duncan, Matt Lauder and Fiona Lake have all found their unique niche, and I would say 3 out of the 4 their would use photoshop.

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