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image icon 'An Australian fjord'

'An Australian fjord'
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a large oil painting, measuring 124.5 cm x 88.7 cm, and painted by W C Piguenit (1836-1914) between 1899 and 1901. A mist has just lifted, revealing a sweeping panorama, all slick and shiny and wet in the early morning light. Beyond a foreground of rocks and tangled vegetation, a mirror-smooth river runs off into the distance towards dark, blue hills which are overhung with ragged clouds. A distant ship, a wharf and a shed are dwarfed by the dark cliffs and clouds.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • was among a number of consciously populist paintings made in Australia around the turn of the 20th century that were intended as icons for the new nation - the Federation of Australia in 1901 inspired artists, including Piguenit, to paint panoramic landscapes that, in their depictions of rugged and seemingly untouched wilderness, represented Australia as an ancient land
  • indicates, both through its title and majestic style of interpretation, how closely Australian picturesque landscape artists looked to European sources for inspiration - the word 'fjord' is Norwegian and describes spectacular coastal formations where narrow valleys drop straight down into the sea
  • was painted by a significant 19th-century Australian landscape artist - W C Piguenit was the first Australian-born professional artist and the last of the colonial landscape painters; his work straddles the late colonial period to Australian impressionism; this is probably the last major Australian landscape of the 19th century
  • is an excellent example of the artist's later work - Piguenit was well known for his romantic realist paintings of majestic Australian landscapes; by the 1890s he had become very proficient at rendering atmospheric effects of contrasting Australian light
  • demonstrates a wide range of painting techniques - the textures of the foreground estuary and vegetation have been created by the use of calligraphic 'wet in wet' applications of paint; the glassy quality of the river has been achieved by smooth applications of paint; while the clouds have been given dramatic emphasis through the use of impasto (paste-like) applications of different colours
  • shows how landscape artists working in the picturesque tradition manipulated the design of their compositions to communicate a sense of being overwhelmed by the immensity and power of nature - the high viewpoint was a device often used by Piguenit and other Australian landscape artists throughout the 19th century; a 20th-century Australian artist, Fred Williams (1927-82), also used this method to deal with the vastness of the inland
  • may have been influenced by a very well-known painting from the Heidelberg school of artists - in Arthur Streeton's (1867-1943) 'The purple noon's transparent might' (1896), a high viewpoint is also used to build a sense of the landscape falling and the river (the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury River) sweeping away into blue-hazed infinity
  • is a reminder of the role played by artists in opening Australians' eyes to the beauty of wilderness - this spectacular landscape, designed to capture the imagination, presents a scene that looks like something a bushwalker might come across early one morning; it cleverly evokes a sense of untouched nature and untamed wilderness
  • depicts what is today a Sydney suburban landscape - the landscape and river seen in this work are now part of the Lane Cove National Park, which was established in 1938.