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image icon 'Cumberland Creek, near Apollo Bay'

'Cumberland Creek, near Apollo Bay'
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an oil painting on canvas, measuring 46.0 cm x 61.2 cm, and painted by the Australian colonial artist Nicholas Chevalier (1828-1902) in 1863. It shows a river valley dominated by hills and a rugged escarpment. The time is possibly late afternoon, and shadows have cloaked the river banks in the foreground to the left, leaving the exposed rock faces of the high cliffs along the far side of the creek and the escarpment to glow in the late light. The sinuous path of the river from the lower right provides an easy pathway for the viewer's eye to follow.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an example of mid-19th-century romantic landscape painting - this genre of painting was a dramatic style of interpretation that evolved in Europe and England during the 18th century; choosing landscapes as independent painting subjects, and travelling to remote areas of countryside in search of suitable and dramatic subjects, became popular among artists well into the 19th century
  • is a major work by a significant Australian colonial artist - Nicholas Chevalier was a German-trained Swiss artist who arrived in Melbourne at the end of 1854, and who painted panoramic landscapes and worked as an illustrator for news publications and journals; he is best known today for a large painting which depicts the departure of the Burke and Wills expedition from Melbourne in 1860, entitled 'Memorandum of the start of the exploring expedition' (1861), which is also in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia
  • reflects the influence on Chevalier of another significant colonial artist - Eugene von Guérard (1811-1901) came from Europe to Melbourne in 1852 to try his luck on the Victorian gold fields, and established himself as Victoria's foremost landscape artist; Chevalier accompanied von Guérard on some of his sketching treks into the wilderness; the choice of such a spectacular location, together with the dramatic use of lighting and emphasis on rock and strata formations that are evident in 'Cumberland Creek', are a clear reflection of von Guérard's influence
  • shows how certain kinds of Australian colonial artists (particularly Chevalier and von Guérard) preferred to interpret landscape views in a formal way - this was intended to make the viewer become aware of 'sublime' or 'awesome' feelings in the presence of nature and natural forces at work (particularly storms); the fine detail and carefully controlled lighting and composition are artistic devices designed to calm the viewer and create a mood in which deep and meaningful thoughts arise
  • illustrates how romantic landscape artists of this period (like Chevalier) carefully edited and composed details to build a sense of dramatic mood - the dark massing of the landforms in the lower left of the picture acts as a framing device for the most important feature of the picture, which is the distant broken hillside with its exposed rock face; the meandering creek is another romantic landscape device that is designed to entice the eye into the picture
  • reflects the popular taste of the period for picturesque interpretations of the Australian landscape - these offered the reassurance that the savage bush and fearful wilderness had been tamed, and its unique beauties had finally been revealed; the term 'picturesque' is associated with a general body of landscape painting that appeared in Europe around the end of the 18th century.