FIRE BEGINS, 1930-31

Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 August 2014


(1867 - 1943)
FIRE BEGINS, 1930-31

oil on canvas

51.5 x 66.0 cm

signed lower left: A STREETON

$40,000 - 60,000
Sold for $84,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 36 - 27 August 2014, Sydney

Private collection
Sotheby's, Melbourne, 23 August 1993, lot 140
Company collection, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney


Exhibition of Paintings by Arthur Streeton, Fine Art's Galleries [Fine Arts Society Gallery], Melbourne, 31 March – 14 April 1932, cat. 9, 60 gns
From Bunny to Boyd: A Selection of Australian Art, Gould Galleries, Melbourne, 17 March – 15 April 1995, cat. 5 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)


Streeton, A., The Arthur Streeton Catalogue, Melbourne, 1935, cat. 1034

Catalogue text

While Arthur Streeton's landscapes celebrate a land of golden summers, the other side of the coin is shared by droughts and bushfires. In Australian colonial art bushfires provided a subject of drama, as in William Strutt's panorama of terror and flight from the flames, Black Thursday, February 6th. 1851, of 1864 in the collection the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, and later Eugene von Guerard's Bush Fire, Taken on the Spot from Meningoort, in March 1857; locality between Cloven Hill and Timboon, now Camperdown, of 1859, in the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Victoria. The length and detail of their titles highlight the terror of such events as the European settlers confronted a landscape that was forbidding and alien. The subject became part of the heroic struggle of the pioneers against fearsome odds, as in John Longstaff's huge canvas, Gippsland, Sunday Night, February 20th, 1898 in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The growing nationalism of Streeton's time, however, led to a happier accommodation of the landscape and eventually an immense pride in it, as seen in paintings of noonday's sunny might. In Fire Begins, 1930-31, the bushfire is almost tamed, becoming more an incident, not the dominant narrative of before. The threat, nevertheless, is present, kindled by Streeton's own conservation concerns, something slightly sinister in the way in which the smoke rises in an accumulative vertical contrasting with the gentler horizontals and curving hills bathed in sunlight and an atmosphere of stillness. Streeton takes up the mood of calm and pictorializes the old saying of 'the calm before the storm'.

Fire Begins, 1930-31 was among a number of oil paintings shown by Streeton in his 1932 exhibition held at the Fine Arts Society Gallery, Melbourne during March into April.The major works included The Sylvan Dam and Cliff and Ocean Blue, among such others as Studio and Lodge,'Longacres', and numerous paintings of flowers. The art critic for the Melbourne Argus commented - 'The mastery of a gifted painter of long experience is shown in all ... The recent work [he added] has remarkable freshness, combined with its strength and distinction.'1 Streeton's ability to capture the panoramic majesty of the landscape is a highlight of many of these paintings, the extraordinary feeling of distance in Fire Begins, 1930-31, being shared with The Sylvan Dam, and Cliff and Ocean Blue. The latter painting, which belongs to a group Streeton painted during a visit to Victoria's Port Campbell at the time, expresses another feature they share - the awe inspiring might and miracle of nature. In Fire Begins, 1930-31, Streeton celebrates the splendour of the heavens in harmony with the nobility of the earth.

1. Lilley, N., 'Mr. Streeton's Mastery. Bush, Sea, and Flowers. Work of Charm Exhibited', Argus, Melbourne, 31 March 1932, p. 8