I saw a newspaper advertisement for an exhibition called Eugene von Guérard: Nature Revealed. I was curious about what they meant by
nature revealed. I was also surprised to read that von Guérard was called "Victoria's most important landscape painter". So off I went to the National Gallery of Victoria at Federation Square.
I am a wheelchair user and access in the gallery is very easy. There are also tours with audio description for people with vision impairment and Auslan interpreted tours for people who are Deaf.
A special exhibition
I joined a tour with an enthusiastic volunteer guide named Dinah. I quickly learnt that this exhibition was special. This year is the 150th anniversary of the National Gallery of Victoria. Eugene von Guérard was the gallery's first director.
Eugene von Guérard spent 28 years living in Melbourne. He painted in many regions around Victoria in the 1850s and 1860s. His early training was in Europe. He was attracted to Australia because of its different geography, geology and vegetation. That period was an era of discovery in the field of natural science. It was a time when Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt and Ferdinand von Mueller made their names.
Eugene von Guérard often travelled around Victoria with scientists. He recorded nature in fine detail in small sketchbooks. The drawings are incredibly precise. At the exhibition these sketchbooks are on display. They have also been digitised. You can examine them in detail via touch-screen panels, turning the pages yourself.
I could see that he was revealing nature in a new way. His paintings combine science and art. His work is meticulous in its detail. At the exhibition I saw a man looking at some of the works with a magnifying glass.
The tour guide told us of the environmental significance of von Guérard's work. He recorded the environment exactly as it was 150 years ago. We can compare it with what we see today.
Some of the people in the tour from Warrnambool were excited to see von Guérard's painting of Tower Hill. The guide explained that his painting was a reference for restoration work many years later. The painting View of Geelong is also amazing with its detail and wide panorama. The scene is from the north-west of Geelong looking across the bay. I look forward to seeing what the area looks like today next time I am visiting Geelong.
Truth to nature
In the days after the exhibition I looked at the newspaper advertisement again. The name of the painting featured is Tea Trees near Cape Schanck. I looked again at the trees, bush and rocks in the foreground. I realised that there was so much detail that I had not noticed before. The whole painting has so much detail.
I was also reminded of von Guérard's words.
My wish was ... to demonstrate the character of the Australian landscape faithfully and with truth to nature, he said. I think he achieved his goal. He revealed nature in a new way.
Eugene von Guérard: Nature Revealed is on until August 7 at The Ian Potter Centre.