Eugene von Guerard (1811-1901) Wannon Parsonage, c.1855

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Lot 11
Eugene von Guerard
(1811-1901)
Wannon Parsonage, c.1868

Sold for AU$ 147,600 (US$ 106,596) inc. premium

Important Australian Art

17 Nov 2021, 18:00 EST

Sydney

Eugene von Guerard (1811-1901)
Wannon Parsonage, c.1868
signed and inscribed lower left: 'Wannon Parsonage / After a drawing by Miss Georg. J. Mitchell / E. v. Guerard'
inscribed verso: 'A Painting by Eugene von Guerard / sent to the Rev'd Dr Russell / by Georgiana J. Mitchell in / grateful remembrance of her / visit to the Wannon'
oil on board
28.0 x 38.0cm (11 x 14 15/16in).

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE
    Rev. Dr Francis Thomas Cusack Russell (1823-1876), Victoria
    By descent through a private family collection, Ireland

    The Austrian-born, German-trained artist, Eugene von Guérard (1811- 1901), arrived in Australia in 1852 and within a handful of years had secured his reputation as the leading landscape painter in the colony. Today he is recognized as one of the greatest landscape painters to have worked in Australia in the nineteenth century. Wannon Parsonage, which has been held in private hands for the past 150 years, can now take its place in the corpus of one of Australia's most important artists.

    Like von Guérard's paintings of Western District homesteads, Wannon Parsonage is a property portrait. It depicts the residence of the Reverend Dr. F. T. Cusack Russell (1823-1876) picturesquely situated on a rise above the Wannon River at a location near the Wannon Bridge, Tahara, about sixteen kilometres south of Coleraine. Unlike most property portraits, however, Wannon Parsonage was not commissioned by the property owner, but by Miss Georgiana J. Mitchell, who gifted it to Dr Russell "in grateful remembrance of her visit to the Wannon."

    In a departure from von Guérard's usual practice, and as he noted in the inscription above his signature, Wannon Parsonage was painted "After a Drawing by Miss Georg. J. Mitchell." While von Guérard may have known Miss Mitchell, either directly or indirectly, perhaps the most important factor in his decision to proceed with the commission was his first-hand knowledge of the terrain. He could be confident that his painting would be true to its subject. He knew this country, having sketched the Coleraine landscape on his December 1857 expedition to Mount Gambier. As his drawings of 7 and 8 December 1857 reveal, he was captivated by the distinctive character of the district. In assured rhythmic lines he described the winding course of the tree-lined Bryans Creek, a tributary the Wannon, the gently rounded hills defined by lines of trees and the flat, expansive tablelands. These studies informed von Guérard's portrayal of the landscape in Wannon Parsonage.

    By 1851, or soon after, Dr Russell, his wife and his wife's sister had settled into the Parsonage which had been built for him by Samuel Pratt Winter of Murndal, who, along with other parishioners, reimbursed Dr Russell for the purchase of the 100 acres on which it stood. The next generation, the Winter-Cookes, continued the tradition of generous support for their friend, the indefatigable "bush parson," a man who covered huge distances on horseback to care for his parishioners. A large red gum tree, which still stands on the Tahara Road, became a letter box for messages notifying him of those in need throughout the district. His legendary humanity and kindness were qualities that led to the commissioning of Wannon Parsonage.

    Von Guérard structured his composition around the serpentine line of the Wannon River, its trajectory accentuated by the river redgums that line its banks. From the steep elbow-bend of the river in the foreground the river sweeps into a powerful arc, its form echoed in two smaller, more distant arcs. The river is the unifying element in the composition. It leads the eye into the depth of the landscape and its curves resonate throughout – in the shadows on the grassy foreground and in the sinuous lines of the undulations of the ridge behind the Parsonage. The picture is alive with meticulously realized detail: the grasses in the foreground, the individual forms of eucalypts and the fall of light on their trunks, the low-flying white cockatoos heading for the river gums, the steeply-roofed house with its verandah, outbuildings and walled garden, the horse-drawn cart near the house, and the slopes dotted with cattle. The man on horseback pictured in the lower left may well be a reference to the travelling parson returning home.

    On the basis of the well-established garden and built structures depicted in the painting, a date in the late 1860s, or very early 1870s can be proposed for von Guérard's Wannon Parsonage. In the 1850s Dr Russell listed the trees –walnuts, Spanish chestnuts, mulberries, Black heart cherries and nectarines – that he intended to cultivate at the Parsonage. At least a decade, probably more, would have passed before such trees reached the height and maturity of those portrayed here. The work predates 1875 as Dr Russell and his family travelled to Ireland in 1875 and, sadly, he died in 1876 on the return voyage to Australia. The Parsonage no longer stands, but Dr Russell's trees remain.

    Dr Ruth Pullin

    I would like to thank Catharine Winter-Cooke, Daniel McOwan and Mark Templeton for their generous assistance.

    References: James Bonwick, Western Victoria: Its Geography Geology and Social Condition. The Narrative of an Educational Tour in 1857 Thomas Brown, Geelong, 1858
    Margaret Kiddle, Men of Yesterday: A Social History of the Western District of Victoria 1834-1890, Melbourne University Press, Parkville, 1961
    Alex E. H. Stone, The Curate of the Wannon. A Biography of the Reverend Francis Thomas Cusack Russell 1823-1876, Alex E.H. Stone, Milang, South Australia, 2010
Contacts
Eugene von Guerard (1811-1901) Wannon Parsonage, c.1855
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