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image icon 'Castle Rock, Cape Schanck', 1865

'Castle Rock, Cape Schanck', 1865
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This is a landscape painting in oils, measuring 61.0 cm x 91.3 cm, by Eugene von Guérard (1811-1901), dated 1865. It shows a section of coastline from the land looking out to sea. The section that fills about half of the total image is a view that takes in a series of low rocky shelves running into the water, and a high cliff with a spectacular vertical outcrop. On top of the cliff, in the far upper right corner is a lighthouse, near which is a flagpole or tripod. A few patches of grass and small bushes can be seen in the foreground, but the rest of the landmass is deeply weathered rock in which the strata layers are clearly visible. In the shallow surf to the left of the work, two fishermen wait in a small boat while another trudges across the rocky shore with some fish and a fishing rod. It is the end of the day and the sun, which is about to sink in a blaze of golden-purple glory, is highlighting the taller rocks and casting deep shadows.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work of art by Eugene von Guérard, who was one of a number of significant artists to come to Victoria in the mid-19th century; these artists included Ludwig Becker (1806-61), William Strutt (1825-1915), Robert Dowling (1820-86), Nicholas Chevalier (1828-1902) and Thomas Clark (1814-83); von Guérard was born in Vienna and trained in Germany and Italy, he arrived in Australia in 1852 and was Australia's finest landscape painter of the later colonial period
  • incorporates new directions in landscape painting, which artists from Europe (Continental as opposed to British artists) introduced into colonial Victoria around the mid-19th century; von Guérard, Becker, Chevalier and others were Biedermeier landscape painters, a style of art that originated in Germany early in the 19th century; this style of art became associated with the soundness and simplicity of design and a return to realism; von Guérard was influenced by the Austrian Biedermeier School, especially the work of Ferdinand Waldmüller (1739-1865), who sought to portray absolute naturalism in his landscapes
  • is an example of the manner in which some colonial artists used systems to record landscape; in 'Castle Rock', von Guérard has created a 'typical' landscape, which means that he used a particular method (or formula) to assemble the scene to broadly represent the essential character of this environment; the rugged rocks, the lighthouse, the fishermen and the spectacular sunset are used like stage scenery and props that have been manipulated by the artist to present a kind of visual catalogue of the area
  • is a blend of European approaches to landscape as a subject in art; the influence of classically referenced landscapes by 17th-century French artist Claude Lorrain (1600-82) can be seen in the division of the work into two triangular sections, one of which is full of jagged rocks and fine detail, demanding close attention, while the other (sea and sky) is less featured and therefore more calming in mood and feel; the emphasis given to the rugged coastline reflects the influence of the wild and romantic rocky landscapes of the Italian artist Salvator Rosa (1615-73)
  • uses symbolism to explore ideas and feelings - von Guérard was aware of the work of the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), whose images of lonely figures in isolated natural settings had powerful religious and philosophical undertones; features of the landscape likely to inspire awe or feelings of insignificance (such as the dark towering cliffs), the timelessness of the rock strata or the puniness of humanity (the tiny lighthouse and even tinier figures set against a blazing sun and ancient weathered land) in 'Castle Rock', represent von Guérard's own personal reading of a particular landscape
  • demonstrates a particular German Romantic attitude to nature - Friedrich called nature 'Christ's Bible' and saw landscape painting as an intermediary between man and God; von Guérard's detailed descriptions of natural features (particularly plants, rocks and strata formations) reflect a personal desire to possess an intimate knowledge of nature in order to reveal the presence and work of a divine creator
  • depicts a well-known Victorian coastal landmark - Cape Schanck is at the southern tip of the Mornington Peninsula about 70 kilometres south of Melbourne; the lighthouse shown in this painting was built in 1859 and was the second coastal light established in Victoria; Castle Rock (now known as Pulpit Rock) is a spectacular rock formation that was a drawcard for tourists and travellers from mid-colonial times (and continues to be so to the present day); an early description suggested that Castle Rock 'might easily be mistaken for a dismantled fortress'; the ship on the very far left of the horizon marks the entrance to Port Phillip Bay.