PORTRAIT OF ARTHUR STREETON, c.1890 (Portrait of Smike)

Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 April 2009

Artist Unknown

late 19th century Australian School
PORTRAIT OF ARTHUR STREETON, c.1890 (Portrait of Smike)

oil on canvas

57.0 x 42.0 cm

inscribed verso and transferred to back of new canvas: STREETON / BY / TOM ROBERTS / 1890

This painting was inherited by Miss Sinclair (of the Reserve Bank Collins Street Melbourne) From her great aunt Miss Agnes MacIntosh who was a contemporary of Roberts and Streeton at the Heidelberg School and this painting of Streeton was given directly to her by Roberts and was still hanging in her family home until late 1966. Painted in the house at Eaglemont in which the Heidelberg School was originated.

$45,000 - 65,000

Benno C. Schmidt, Esperance, W.A.
Tony Moore, Esperance, W. A.
Thence by descent
Private collection, Western

Catalogue text

Arthur Streeton was nicknamed 'Smike' by his fellow artists. They all had such names. The natural leader, British-born Tom Roberts, was called 'Bulldog'; the philosophising Frederick McCubbin,'The Proff' [sic]; Charles Conder 'K' or 'Kay'; and the very organised Walter Withers, the 'Colonel'. Streeton was called 'Smike' because of his slight physique, named after the character in Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby.1 These names have come down to us through history and for Streeton have their highlight in Roberts' portrait Smike Streeton age 24, 1891, in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Until recently and consistent with the inscription verso, our painting was thought to have been painted by Roberts. A recent comparison between this and the Art Gallery of New South Wales portrait has questioned the attribution. Nonetheless, early portraits of Streeton are rare and our work is certainly by a talented contemporary.

Among Streeton's contemporaries, it was McCubbin who was the most recorded. The National Gallery of Victoria has a drawing of McCubbin while still at the Gallery School. In later years his visage was memorialised in bronze by Charles Web Gilbert and caricatured by the cartoonist David Low. McCubbin also painted a number of self-portraits throughout his lifetime, including those in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and the State Galleries in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. Of Roberts, there is Charles Conder's portrait exhibited in the 9 x 5 Impression Exhibition of 1889 under the title 'An Impressionist'. In 1924 Roberts painted his self-portrait and gave it to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Streeton also painted one that year, both being in response to requests from the Trustees of the Sydney gallery.2

Roberts kept his youthful 1891 portrait of Streeton throughout his life, an indication of the closeness of their friendship. They first met during a painting trip to Mentone. The year the 'Smike' portrait was painted, Streeton used his Melbourne studio while Roberts was at Corowa. The two then left for Sydney in the following September, the Art Gallery of New South Wales portrait probably being painted while they were camping at Little Sirius Cove. Our knowledge of the artist has now been extended by this further, lively image of the youthful Smike. Freshly and broadly painted, its feeling of immediacy adds greatly to its appeal. Moreover, with palette in hand and seated beside a landscape painting, it follows in that great Western tradition of painters seen at work in their studios, a rare moment indeed in Australian art.

1. Croll, R. H., Smike to Bulldog: Letters from Sir Arthur Streeton to Tom Roberts, Ure Smith Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1946, p. 3 
2. Although not listed in The Arthur Streeton Catalogue, 1935, a self-portrait is recorded for the year 1933, being catalogue no.1063