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image icon 'Early morning, Heidelberg'

'Early morning, Heidelberg'
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a horizontal format oil painting, measuring 45.0 cm x 91.7 cm, by Walter Withers (1854-1914). The subject is a semi-rural landscape with buildings. It is early morning and the sun is rising from behind the viewer and shining directly onto the hat and apron of a woman standing by a fence. A scatter of chickens near her feet indicates that she has been up early giving them some feed. Behind her, half-obscured by trees, are some buildings that, like the sagging paling fences running in front of and alongside the buildings, look to be showing their age. The front road running past the houses to the left is a dirt track that, judging by its overgrown appearance, does not see much traffic. A full pale moon hangs in the clear morning sky.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an excellent example of a style of impressionist art associated with later 1890s Melbourne painting - in landscape painting this was characterised by a gentleness of mood and subtle colour and tonal exchanges, a lack of prescriptive detail and a preference for soft or low light settings, usually at dawn or in the late evening; this shift in style reflected the increasing influence of French Impressionism
  • is an Australian impressionist landscape painting - by the later 1880s a number of Melbourne-based artists including Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917), Tom Roberts (1856-1931), Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), and Charles Conder (1868-1909), had successfully pioneered a regional variation of an international style of painting known as Impressionism; a school of painting associated with the work of these artists and others became known as the Heidelberg School (from the name of a village on the outskirts of Melbourne where impressionist artists spent weekends and holidays painting)
  • is a critically valued work by this artist, who was closely associated with the development of Australian Impressionism - Walter Withers studied art in London and Paris and developed first-hand familiarity with French Impressionist and related painting methods, particularly broad brush techniques designed to capture light and create general impressions of scenes
  • characterises the artist's general philosophy and eye for intimate subject matter - Withers never painted grand or nationalistic landscapes (as represented, for example, by Tom Roberts's 'A break away!', 1891), but preferred to seek out and interpret unassuming subjects such as dilapidated buildings, old cottages and paling fences; this English-born and largely European-trained artist devoted his creative energy to recording outer Melbourne landscapes seen through a filter of soft winter or early morning light or the more dramatic context of stormy weather or early evening; the artist Frederick McCubbin once observed that Withers's approach to his art was that, 'He loved the green, fresh landscape, the approaching shower of rain, the soft, dreamy atmosphere of winter'
  • is an excellent example of Wither's style of interpretation, which has been described as casual or uncomposed - in 'Early morning' this can be seen in the way the artist has offered a choice of interest: at first the dirt track running off in to the distance on the left of the picture invites the eye to follow it to the horizon, but then the figure of the woman by the fence and the building entice viewers to get off the road and investigate other attractions in the work
  • is a good example of how important colour values and associations were for artists such as Withers, who traditionally worked in this understated style - the picture is dominated by shades of muted green and the cool blue of the sky; this coolness has been offset by the foreground areas of farmyard and road, which are blocked in with broken strokes of olive tones and warm greys; the small touches of white and red (the hat and apron of the woman, the chimney, the chickens and washing on the clothes line) and the pearly white block of the wall directly facing the sun provide the sparkle that lifts this early morning scene from its sleep
  • references the once semi-rural area of Heidelberg (now a suburb of Melbourne) - Withers lived in Heidelberg with his family and painted many road scenes within the area; 'Early morning' was painted from the vicinity of Cape Street, looking to the west up one of the streets that run parallel to Burgundy Street.