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image icon 'St Kilda Park'

'St Kilda Park'
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an oil painting by Louis Buvelot (1814-88), measuring 56 cm x 71 cm and painted in about 1889. The main subject appears to be a picnic in Melbourne's St Kilda Park, where several groups of people have gathered in a clearing in the shade of a large gum tree.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a very fine example of the 'plein air' painting style, which was adopted by Australian landscape painters in the later 19th century - 'plein air' is a French term meaning 'open air'; painting 'en plein air' involved working out of doors in front of a subject and recording the effects of light
  • represents, in its style and interpretation, a shift in attitude among Australian landscape artists away from grand and heroic vistas towards more intimate and approachable subjects, like local parks and rural settings - the gum tree, symbolic of the Australian bush, dominates the composition, but the colonial homestead in the background, with its veranda and garden of pencil pines, defines this as an urban rather than a rural landscape
  • is a work by a significant later colonial artist - Louis Buvelot was a Swiss artist who travelled extensively before settling in Melbourne in 1865; Buvelot was one of the most influential and talented of the European continental artists who came to Australia around the mid-colonial period, and is credited with inspiring a generation of young Australian artists, including Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), Tom Roberts (1856-1931) and Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917); McCubbin once commented: 'Most of us owe it to him that slowly we were able to see the paintable qualities of that which lay immediately around us'
  • is a work by an artist who trained in the French Barbizon tradition - Barbizon is a village south of Paris; it attracted numerous French artists during the 19th century, working in a variety of 'plein-air' styles
  • is an excellent demonstration of Buvelot's method of working, which involved the application of impasto paint (thick, dry pigment) with a squared-off bristle brush - the broken brushstrokes across the surface of the image simulate the fracturing of sunlight on surfaces, and, combined with a high-key palette (achieved primarily by adding white to the oil pigments), helps capture the bleaching effect of bright Australian sunlight
  • demonstrates the use of a distinctive colour palette, which is a feature of this and other similar paintings by Buvelot - the emphasis is away from traditional dark browns and greens towards softer colours like olive greens, violet tints and hints of blond tones, which became very popular with the next generation of artists
  • is a work which is highly regarded, due to the intimacy of subject as well as the painterly application and treatment of light - it is considered a fine example of Buvelot's mature style, when he was becoming recognised for his role in the emergence of a tradition of distinctively Australian landscape painting.