Important Australian + International Fine Art
2 May 2012


(1867 - 1943)

oil on canvas

86.5 x 112.5 cm

signed and dated lower right: Arthur Streeton 88

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000
Sold for $2,520,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 25 - 2 May 2012, Sydney

Charles Raymond Staples, Melbourne, from 1888 probably until October 1891
Private collection, New South Wales
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 24 July 1985, lot 100
The Holmes à Court Collection, Perth (label attached verso)
Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne
Private collection, United States of America


Tom Roberts's studio, Grosvenor Chambers, Melbourne, 20 April 1888
Victorian Artists' Society, Autumn Exhibition, 'Grosvenor Gallery', National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, April – May 1888, cat. 16 (illus.)
Centennial International Exhibition, Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne, 1 August 1888 – 31 January 1889, Victorian Artists' Gallery no. 3, as 'Settler's Camp, The property of C.R. Staples Esq.'
Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 30 October 1985 – 27 January 1986; touring to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; and Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, until 14 September 1986
On loan to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 1986–87 (label attached verso)


Table Talk, 27 April 1888, p. 2
[Smith, J.], 'Exhibition of the Victorian Society of Artists', Argus, 30 April 1888, p. 11
Age, 30 April 1888, p. 6
Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 20 March 1925, p. 9
Moore, W., The Story of Australian Art, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1934, vol. I, p. 71
Streeton, A., The Arthur Streeton Catalogue, self published, Melbourne, 1935, cat. 37, as 'Settlers' Camp (Tent)'
Croll, R.H. (ed.), Smike to Bulldog, Letters from Sir Arthur Streeton to Tom Roberts, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1946, p. 4
Galbally, A., Arthur Streeton, Lansdowne, Melbourne, 1979, cat. 14, pp. 11, 14
Astbury, L., City Bushmen: The Heidelberg School and the Rural Mythology, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985, pp. 132–133
Clark, J. and Whitelaw, B., Golden Summers: Heidelberg and beyond, International Cultural Corporation of Australia Limited, Sydney, 1985, pp. 73–74 (illus.)
Maslen, G., '$800,000 phone bid brings Streeton auction record', Age, Melbourne, 25 July 1985, p. 1 (illus.)
Wray, C., Arthur Streeton, Painter of Light, Jacaranda Wiley, Milton, 1993, pp. 26ff
Eagle, M., The Oil Paintings of Arthur Streeton in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1994, pp. 23–24 (illus.)
Smith, G., Arthur Streeton 1867–1943, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, p. 13
Clark, J., in Exploration and Transformation: Australian Landscape and Artistic Imagination, Holmes à Court Gallery (Heytesbury), Perth, 2000, pp. 12–14 (illus.)
Maslen, G., Age, Melbourne, 10 October 2000, p. 4 (illus.)

Catalogue text

In early 1888 the two leading factions in the Melbourne art world, the older Victorian Academy of Arts and the younger Turks of the Australian Artists' Association amalgamated under the name of the Victorian Artists' Society. The inaugural exhibition was previewed on 30 April at the National Gallery on Swanston Street. Hailed by James Smith, noted art critic for The Argus as the 'best that our local artists have yet produced', he singled out three paintings for special mention - John Ford Paterson's Entrance to the Bush, Frederick McCubbin's Twilight, and Arthur Streeton's Settler's Camp. 'Three woodland landscapes, grouped together,' Smith observed, 'form a curiously harmonious panel, owing to the similarity of their subjects - and to some extent - of their treatment.'1 Smith considered Paterson's painting 'one of the best works [he] has yet given us', and praised McCubbin's 'sylvan scene' for its 'sentiment of stillness, seclusion, and repose.' Turning to Streeton, he wrote:

Mr. Arthur Streeton's 'Settler's Camp', which forms the other section of this clever triptych, is a poetical interpretation of a prosaic passage in the daily life of one of the pioneers of agricultural settlement. A free selector, who has pitched his tent on the outskirts of the forest, in Gippsland, let us say, has just lit the fire for his evening meal, and through a narrow vista the light of the departing day looks in and almost transfigures the homely surroundings of the lonely and self-reliant man.2

Streeton contributed a second painting to the exhibition, Pastoral, which is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. In 1888, when both were sold - Settler's Camp for £52.10.0 and Pastoral for £60 - Streeton decided to leave his position as an apprentice lithographer with George Troedel & Co. to begin a full time career in art. The exhibition had many outstanding works, engaging in aesthetic appeal and important to the history of Australian Impressionism. Tom Roberts's contribution included 'Evening, when the quiet east flushes faintly at the sun's last look' c1887, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and At Autumn Morning, Milson's Point, Sydney 1888 in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Paterson's Hauling the Seine - Halfmoon Bay is in the collection of the Bendigo Art Gallery, as also is Emma Minnie Boyd's Afternoon Tea. Jane Sutherland's several contributions included the delightfully engaging Little Gossips 1888, in the Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth. Another major work both in concept and size, McCubbin's Midday Rest 1888, is in the Lionel Lindsay Collection of the University of Queensland Art Museum. Thematically related to Streeton's Settler's Camp, Smith referred to McCubbin's landscape setting as being 'painted after the modern French methods, which seems to possess such a fascination for our young artists.' Australian subjects were to the fore, especially the landscape and narratives of the early settlers and their pioneering endeavours. Of the latter, Roberts exhibited End to a Career - an old Scrub Cutter, now lost, Alexander Colquhoun An Old Homestead, and Arthur M. Boyd To a New Home, a heavily laden bullock wagon carrying a pioneer family to a new bush settlement.

The 1880s witnessed what was seen as the birth and development of a distinctly Australian school of painting, the centenary year of 1888 being a high point. National identity was linked to the landscape with a growing admiration for the gum tree in all its varied species, as well as subjects of Australian life. They were invariably painted in the plein air manner, allowing for some larger canvases to be completed in the studio. Louis Buvelot was acknowledged as the founding figure. In later years McCubbin wrote warmly of his role as 'a forerunner'. 'Buvelot interested himself in the life around him, he sympathised with it and painted it.'

'All his pictures are reminiscent of Australian life as we know it. Incidents by country road sides, weather-worn farm houses, familiar farm yards, fields in which men are working, fences and wayward Gum [sic] trees, the effect of sunlight on a tree or shadow in a forest glade. I remember as if it were yesterday, standing one evening a long time ago, watching the sunset glowing on the trees in Studley Park, and it was largely through Buvelot that I realised the beauty of the scene.'3

The old order was changing, not just among those who worked the land, for on 30 May 1888 Buvelot, acknowledged by McCubbin as 'the last of the pioneer Artists', died.4 Likewise, there was a quickening in the change of public taste, as a writer for The Melbourne University Review so aptly put it 'Genre paintings we can appreciate if they smell of gum leaves'.5 This nationalistic stirring allied itself with a concern to record the passing scene of the pioneers before it too passed away.

And yet there are some pages in our short history that might be worthy of the pencil's art, if only our limners could fix the scenes on the canvas before the already fading images have quite disappeared from the memories of eye-witnesses, and the ancient land marks have all been removed.6

McCubbin, Roberts and Streeton responded with enthusiasm. Even the choice of the site at Box Hill for one of the first artists' camps was influenced by the thoughts of the early settlers, as pointed out by Helen Topliss in her book The Artist 's Camps. 'It is certain, however,' Topliss wrote, 'that the spot was selected because of its pioneering associations. [quoting Roberts]:

Happy Box Hill - the barked roof of the old people, Houstons [sic] - the land sylvan as it ever was - tea tree along the creek - young blue gums over the flat alongside, and on the rise, our tent. The evening after work - the chops perfect from the fire of gum twigs - the 'good night' of the jackies as the soft darkness fell - then talks around the fire, the Prof [McCubbin] philosophic - we forgot everything, but the peace of it.'7

Streeton's Settler's Camp was painted at Box Hill. He, like Roberts and McCubbin, readily identified himself with the early pioneers in their life around the campfire, allied to being pioneers themselves in the creation of an Australian school of art. Set in remnants of the virgin bush, the camp was on part of David Houston's property. Roberts, McCubbin, and Louis Abrahams camped there first in 1885, captured in Roberts's The Artists' Camp, 1886, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. McCubbin is seated while a hatted Abrahams grills chops at the end of the day's work. The close-up view pointedly adds to the intimacy of the figures with the bush. Abrahams painted a related watercolour Camp, Box Hill c1886 (private collection), showing the same tent and a figure, probably Roberts, at work out-of-doors on a large canvas propped, in the plein air method, against a tree.

In his 1886 painting Whisperings in Wattle Boughs (also known as While the Billy Boils, private collection), McCubbin extended the pioneer theme with a lone bushman resting in a secluded area of bush, waiting for the billy to boil. It could not be further from the genteel concept of the English afternoon tea, stamping the ritual with an indelible Australian flavour. He continued to work through the theme in such paintings as The Midday Rest 1888, and one of the crowning glories of the age, Down on His Luck 1889 in the collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia. There is also On the Wallaby Track 1896 in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the company at the boiling of the billy extended to include the pioneer's wife and baby. The subject achieved its apotheosis in the left wing of McCubbin's triptych The Pioneer 1904 in the National Gallery of Victoria. Each is a variant on the ingredients of the isolated bush labourer, tent, and campfire.

In the 1888 catalogue to the Victorian Artists' Society autumn exhibition, some of the best works were selected for illustration, Streeton's Settler's Camp being one of them. Given the time constraints of printing, the illustrations had to be drawn some time before the exhibition. For Streeton it must have been before he completed his painting, the significant difference being the absence of the second figure in the painting. This heightened the feeling of isolation of the settler as he prepared his meal in the loneliness of the bush setting, the favoured close-up view increasing the identification of the viewer with the subject.

The humanization of the landscape is a feature of Australian Impressionism. No longer seen as Marcus Clarke described it 'the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribblings of nature learning how to write' - melancholy was banished through the heroic endeavours of the pioneer-settler.8 Loneliness, nevertheless, was admired as central to his noble endeavours, emphasized by Streeton through the removal of the second figure in the finished oil of Settler 's Camp. The human figure, both Aboriginal and European, had been present throughout Colonial landscape art, though more as staffage than serving a narrative purpose. In the paintings of the late colonial artists Eugène von Guérard and Nicholas Chevalier figures were small in scale, the human presence being an accessory, dominated by the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature. Even in Buvelot's most homely paintings of settlers and welcoming smoke from homestead chimneys, figures are but a part of the overall civilized view. In the 1888 subject paintings of Streeton, Roberts and McCubbin the landscape provided the setting, compositionally dominated by the figures and their pictorial purpose. The fact that Settler's Camp was Streeton's 'largest and most ambitious painting to date' is indicative of his interest in the subject and its considerable popularity at that time.9 His interest continued in The Selector's Hut: Whelan on the Log 1890 in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Significantly, Mary Eagle has pointed out that although the painting depicts the caretaker-farmer J. Whelan and a known site at Eaglemont, his 'Melbourne audience' would have recognized and accepted that Streeton's image conveyed a 'fictional message' - 'it portrays a hardy pioneer in the process of 'selecting' some lonely patch of countryside. The language of The selector's hut was myth.'10 Streeton was not alone.

The flood of national imagery in the late 'eighties and 'nineties was fed jointly by the contemporary scene and the continuation of colonial themes in art. Conscious of the passing times and dwindling ranks of the pioneers, documentary photographers such as Nicholas Caire and illustrators for the popular press found rich sources in the life around them. The Illustrated Australian News, often featured illustrated stories of the vicissitudes of pioneering life. Its edition of 25 November 1885 included a full-page of illustrations titled 'Incidents in the Life of a Selector'. McCubbin, Roberts, and others drew from the present and the past for subjects such as lost in the bush, campfire life, and bushrangers, found earlier in the work of William Strutt, S.T. Gill and their contemporaries. Roberts's Bailed Up 1895/1927 (Art Gallery of New South Wales), while based on information of an actual event, depicts an incident from the 1860s 'typifying the early days of New South Wales in the bushranging era.'11 The models in McCubbin's On the Wallaby Track 1896 were his wife Annie, baby son Sydney, and Annie's uncle Michael Moriarty. The location was Brighton, close to where they lived. The imagery, however, recalls the past, the painting being one of the most popular of his pioneer series. By such means, McCubbin, Streeton, Roberts, and their contemporaries elevated life around them to the level of history, morphed into mythology. Myth making plays a vital role in nationalism and late nineteenth century Australia was no exception. Settler's Camp is a classic example of this genre. It is, however, one of a very select few as Streeton soon turned his attention to the magnificence of the Australian landscape seen in such masterpieces as Golden Summer, Eaglemont 1889 in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and 'The purple noon's transparent might ' 1896 in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Settler's Camp is a major painting from the centenary year of 1888. There is further reason why it is one of a particularly rare species. Few of its kind are still in private hands.

1. Smith, J., 'Exhibition of the Victorian Society of Artists', Argus, 30 April 1888, p. 11
2. Ibid.
3. McCubbin, F., 'Some Remarks on the History of Australian Art', in Macdonald, J.S., The Art of Frederick McCubbin, Lothian Book Publishing Co. Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1916, p. 85
4. Ibid, p. 86
5. 'Art in Melbourne', The Melbourne University Review, 27 September 1884, p. 46
6. Ibid, p. 47
7. Topliss, H., The Artists' Camps: 'Plein Air' Painting in Australia, Hedley Australia Publications, Melbourne, 1992, pp. 66, 68
8. Preface by Marcus Clarke to The Poems of the late Adam Lindsay Gordon, London [n.d.], pp. iv-v, quoted in Smith, B., Australian Painting 1788-1960, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1962, p. 56
9. Clark, J. and Whitelaw, B., Golden Summers: Heidelberg and beyond, International Cultural Corporation of Australia Limited, Sydney, 1985, p. 74
10. Eagle, M., The Oil Paintings of Arthur Streeton in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1994, p. 56
11. Roberts quoted in Astbury, L., City Bushmen: The Heidelberg School and the Rural Mythology, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985, p. 128