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image icon 'Early summer - gorse in bloom', 1888

'Early summer - gorse in bloom', 1888
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a landscape painting in oils, measuring 56.2 cm x 100.6 cm, by Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), dating from 1888. It shows an almost treeless stretch of countryside on a bright sunlit day. Patches of khaki-green grass are mixed with areas of bare land, and animal tracks can be seen meandering off to the left. Isolated clumps of gorse, a very spiny and dense evergreen shrub with fragrant golden-yellow flowers, are scattered across most of the open ground and massed near the crest of a low hill which runs in a gently curving line across the entire width of the image. A young girl in the foreground, who is wearing a high-waisted dress, pink stockings and a bonnet that covers her face, leans on a section of post-and-rail fencing that corners the edge of a culvert (a road drainage structure). She holds a sprig of gorse in her left hand. A younger girl, who seems to be carrying a basket of gorse blooms, is walking along a cart track towards the girl in the foreground. At the left of the work and further along the track are two women (one with an umbrella) in long dresses.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • 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 the 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 (so named after one of the areas around Melbourne where members of the group painted; McCubbin, with Roberts and another artist, Louis Abrahams (1852-1903), established the first Box Hill artists’ camp in 1886; 'Early summer' was painted at Box Hill
  • is regarded as one of the most significant of all Australian Impressionist paintings and is one of Arthur Streeton's first landscapes - the 21-year-old Streeton chose this work to launch his career in Melbourne by exhibiting it at the prestigious Victorian Artists' Society exhibition in November 1888; 20-year-old Charles Conder exhibited his 'Holiday at Mentone' (1888) at this same exhibition
  • shows the strong influence of Tom Roberts's European travels and experience on Streeton's work - particularly Roberts's 1884 encounter in London with the work and aesthetic ideas of the artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903); Whistler advocated a system of making art based on harmonies of tone and colour, believing that painting should exist for its own sake, not just as a vehicle for a story or moral; 'I insist', he once said, 'on calling my works "arrangements" or "harmonies"'
  • reflects the influence of the artist Charles Conder - Streeton had recently met Conder, who had arrived from Sydney in 1888; both artists rapidly developed their individual styles (under Tom Roberts's leadership) but also learnt from each other; Conder's influence is evident in 'Early summer' through the use of visual devices and motifs (many of which were derived from Japanese art), such as the landscape's blossom theme (gorse in bloom), high horizon line, grassy foreground, cut-off gorse at the bottom of the picture, the use of the fence as a structural compositional element and the exaggerated horizontal proportions of the image
  • demonstrates Streeton's emerging confidence in handling colour - the pink of the older girl's stockings and hat, and the blue dress of the younger girl are deliberately placed to create a satisfying arrangement of colour accents within the overall image; the potential difficulties associated with incorporating bright yellows in the composition have been skillfully solved; the yellow has been reduced to a khaki-green colour, which allows the gorse to 'recede' over the crest of the hill; 'Early summer' may have been the first of Streeton’s major works to use the 'blue-gold' colour scheme that was characteristic of most of his later landscapes
  • demonstrates a confident grasp of Impressionist painting techniques - this is particularly evident in the incisive brush work used to define the figures and fencing, the inventive mark-making that has been used to suggest the foreground tangle of dry bushes, and the confident handling of broad-brush work that suggests the dry open ground in the right foreground; the painting also shows a confident use of tonal values (the visual 'weight' of each colour) where even in a high-key colour scheme (very light colours) the darks and lights work well together
  • was an inspirational work of art for a later generation of artists - in 1953, 'Early summer' became part of the private collection that belonged to art patrons John and Sunday Reed, who were avid supporters and collectors of modern Australian art; in 1934 the Reeds purchased a cottage in a semi-rural area close to Heidelberg; this home, which they named 'Heide', became a creative sanctuary and inspiration for many of Melbourne's brightest and most revolutionary artistic talents of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s; having works by Australian Impressionist artists, including those by Streeton and Walter Withers (1854-1913), on display at Heide served as constant reminders of the artistic achievements of the earlier generation of artists who had worked in the area; Sidney Nolan claimed that seeing 'Early summer' at Heide influenced his change from abstract to figurative painting; it also inspired his (now famous) 'Wimmera' series made in the early 1940s.