Focus exhibitions offer opportunities to highlight certain aspects of the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This exhibition offers insights into diverse responses over two centuries to a common theme - waterfalls. Paintings by Eugene von Guérard, Conrad Martens, Fred Williams, William Delafield Cook and a group of spectacular 19th century photographs are included.
In 19th century Australia, artists and photographers keenly sought out waterfalls as subject matter. Working according to the traditions of Romanticism, they regarded this motif as the ultimate expression of the sublime and the beautiful to which they aspired.
The genesis of this exhibition is Eugene von Guérard’s small painting Waterfall, Strath Creek 1862. His exquisite homage to God in nature through the spectacle of water cascading down a rocky gully has been inspirational for a number of later artists. It was this painting that first prompted 20th century Australian artist Fred Williams to seek out waterfalls as potential subjects for his own work. Based on the Lal Lal Falls near Ballarat, his four-panel painting Waterfall polyptych 1979, evokes the falls as a similarly miraculous element in close-up, in a magisterial orchestration of colour and form. William Delafield Cook too, was inspired by von Guérard’s painting to revisit the site, producing A waterfall (Strath Creek) his own large-scale realist version and tribute to the artist nearly two centuries later.
Also on show is Conrad Martens’ luminous watercolour, Apsley Falls 1874, credited as the first Australian work of art to enter the gallery's collection.
Helen Campbell, curator of the exhibition, will present a floor-talk on Wednesday 24 May at 5.30 pm