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image icon 'Jeremiah Ware's stock on Minjah Station', 1856

'Jeremiah Ware's stock on Minjah Station', 1856
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is an 1856 oil painting (74.5 cm x 100.5 cm) by Robert Dowling (1827-86) of a pastoral property in the Western District of Victoria in the mid-19th century. Most of the composition is taken up with cleared land, on which a herd of contented cattle can be seen either with their heads down, feeding on the lush grass, lying down or simply standing side-on to the viewer. A horse is in the left foreground. In the distance there is a farmhouse with a veranda and some outbuildings. A post-and-rail fence at the right of the work angles back towards these buildings.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work of art by Robert Dowling, one of a number of significant artists who came to Victoria in the mid-19th century - these artists included Ludwig Becker (1806-61), William Strutt (1825-1915), Eugene von Guérard (1811-1901), Nicholas Chevalier (1828-1902) and Thomas Clark (1814-83); this was the largest concentration of professional artists in any one area in Australia, and helped to establish Melbourne as Australia's pre-eminent art capital of the period
  • is a painting by the first of Australia's artists to be professionally trained locally - Dowling studied under the Tasmanian painter Thomas Bock (1790-1855); primarily a portrait artist, Dowling left Australia in 1857 to study art in London where he continued to paint Australian subjects, particularly portraits of Aboriginal people (some of which were based on watercolours by Bock), along with a range of other subjects; his pre-1857 paintings are today regarded as having the most interest; the best works from this period, which include 'Minjah Station', were the result of a visit to Victoria, probably in 1856
  • is one of a significant series of works Dowling painted in the mid-1850s while visiting his brother Thomas, who lived in the Western District of Victoria - Thomas had married Maria Ware, a member of an extensive family of pastoralists in that district; Maria's brothers commissioned Dowling to produce some portraits, and one brother in particular, Joseph, commissioned at least six paintings, including property views, recordings of local Aboriginal people and domestic scenes
  • depicts Minjah Station, a well-known pastoral property in the Western District of Victoria (about 50 kilometres north of present-day Warrnambool) - this was a cattle station that belonged to Jeremiah, one of Maria Ware's brothers, and it may have been acquired partly for the herd of shorthorn cattle that came with the property at purchase; Jeremiah was known to be a discerning and successful breeder of cattle, as is evident in this visual 'catalogue' of fine-looking animals
  • features a well-known prize bull called 'Master Butterfly' - this animal is located in pride of place in the painting in the foreground; modern-day viewers often comment on the 'cut-out', square shapes of the cattle, however this may in fact have been a common shape for 19th-century cattle as they were bred for beef ('to the ankles') and not for action; another painting of 'Master Butterfly', by Eugene von Guérard, also depicts the animal as being equally long-bodied, short-legged and angular
  • is a lively and descriptive painting by a young artist learning his trade - Dowling was almost 30 years old at this time and had received some art training, mainly in portraiture; the naive quality of the description of the cattle in particular has been likened to 'Christmas crib' cows, but this does not detract from the freshness of the image; Dowling is also displaying his skill in portraying the ambience of the scene: it might be early morning or late afternoon, as there are deep shadows in the foreground and long shadows running from the few large trees in the middle distance, while the cool blue of the sky and the scattering of grey-and-white clouds suggest that it is a cold day
  • references links between pastoral landholders and artists in mid to later 19th-century Victoria - following Major Mitchell's exploration of the area in 1836, the Western District was rapidly populated and large pastoral estates that drew their wealth primarily from sheep and cattle emerged; the area and its wealthy pastoralists helped sustain the livelihoods of a number of Melbourne artists including von Guérard, Louis Buvelot (1814-88) and Nicholas Chevalier, all of whom travelled through this area seeking and undertaking commissions to make paintings of homesteads and stock.