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image icon 'The valley', 1898

'The valley', 1898
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an 1898 landscape painting of a valley, seen in the evening, by the late 19th-century artist Sydney Long (1871-1955). It measures 91.5 cm x 61.2 cm. The viewpoint is from a hillside, looking down the valley towards a rising moon, which has just appeared over the rim of a distant mountain range. A river (the Hawkesbury River) can be seen winding its way down the valley between dark stands of massed trees. There is a group of tall trees at the right of the work. The colour scheme is predominantly mauves, blues, greens and pinks.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a late 19th-century Australian landscape painting - the 1890s was a period of significant change in approaches to landscape painting; in Melbourne and Sydney there was a pronounced trend away from 'glare paintings' (which had predominantly nationalistic themes, such as Tom Roberts's 'A break away!' (1891)), towards more romantic and poetic interpretations of landscapes, with luminous and muted colours, and light effects such as evenings and moonrises
  • demonstrates the importance of colour in Long's work - the composition is essentially a colour harmony, in which the 'warms' of the hillside in the foreground balance the 'cools' of the purples and aqua blues in the distant land and sky; the use of this particular palette of colours gives the painting an opalescent or iridescent glow
  • expresses through its colour, mood and absence of human presence the artist's sense of place - Long's essential idea was to create an Australian mythology that was expressed in images, not words, and to (in his own words) 'express the lonely and primitive feeling of this country'
  • demonstrates the influence of 19th-century European and international art on Long's work - working and studying in Sydney as a young artist and reading the English art journal 'The Studio' exposed Long to the ideas and styles associated with the international art movements of art nouveau (an art and design style predominant in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century) and symbolism (a late 19th-century movement in poetry and the arts); the appeal of these two styles lay in the ideas that art was essentially decorative (as opposed to a process of replicating appearances) and a vehicle for the imagination
  • illustrates some particular applications of art nouveau devices - the composition of 'The valley' has been kept dramatically simple by eliminating details, infilling most areas with broad blocks of similar colours and translating the land mass and the trees into silhouettes to emphasise the decorative character of the image; the exaggerated slenderness and verticality of the trees highlight the popularity in late colonial landscape painting of slender eucalyptus saplings (and sinuous tea-trees) as ready-made art nouveau motifs
  • demonstrates the artist's skill in composition - this vertical format oil painting has been broadly divided into the landmass, which occupies the lower third of the composition, and the sky above; the group of very tall and slender trees with sparse foliage, seen at the right of the work, lends prominence to the large area of clear sky; some areas of cleared land in the middle distance and on the foreground hillside add the suggestion that the area is undergoing change
  • is a painting by Sydney Long - Long came from Goulburn, New South Wales, and received training in 'plein air' painting methods, which involved working out of doors in front of a subject and recording the effects of light; the arrival in Sydney in the early 1890s of Heidelberg School artists Arthur Streeton (1867-1943) and Tom Roberts (1856-1931) inspired Long to make landscapes in the impressionist style; throughout his long professional career, Long worked in a variety of styles, but it is his bold, decorative landscapes (particularly 'The spirit of the plains' (1897), in which he portrayed a nymph playing a pipe and leading brolgas in a dance) that are regarded as the true measure of his contribution to Australian art.