Important Australian + International Fine Art
6 May 2015


(1811 - 1901)

oil on academy board

22.5 x 35.5 cm

signed and dated lower left: Eugene .v. Guerard, 1878
inscribed verso: Hills of Victoria Mitta Mitta river (Eastern District)
framer's label attached verso: Isaac Whitehead, Melbourne

$120,000 - 150,000
Sold for $168,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 39 - 6 May 2015, Melbourne

Private collection,Victoria, purchased from the above, 1970s

Catalogue text

Eugene von Guerard (1811-1901) sketched the view depicted in Mitta Mitta River, Victoria, 1878 on 8 November 1862 while on a scientific expedition led by the eminent German geophysicist Georg von Neumayer. The artist, today regarded as Australia's greatest colonial landscape painter, undertook extensive travels throughout the south-eastern colonies of Australia during his time in Victoria (1852-1882), all of which were recorded in his pocket-sized sketchbooks. None of his expeditions were more ambitious or adventurous than that led by Neumayer through north-eastern Victoria to Wodonga, south along the Mitta Mitta River, and to the top Mt Kosciuszko. The view from the summit became the subject of one of von Guerard's most famous paintings, North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko, 1863 (National Gallery of Australia).

The present painting records the view looking upstream towards the source of the river in the Bogong Ranges and from a point close to where the party left the river and headed east towards the Gibbo Creek. Notations on the sketch made on site record the colour and light effects on the mountains that are so beautifully realised in the painting and, in keeping with von Guerard's commitment to botanical accuracy, tree species are identified - the native cherry on the far left of the composition and the wattle on the right side of the island. His skill in portraying the movement of water around the rocks reflects his experience of painting close range studies of rocky streams directly from nature under his teacher, J.W. Schirmer, in Dusseldorf. The striking rock formation on the left bank, illuminated by the sun's rays and a focal point in the composition, may have prompted the geologically-informed artist to sketch this particular view. Neumayer also noted the presence of 'granite of a red and a dark colour' a little further back along the track.1

The portrayal of a member of the party on horseback on the riverside track, with Neumayer's dog, Hector, trotting happily ahead, brings a personal and narrative note to the work, evoking the experience of travelling through this rarely accessed terrain. The diagonal movement of the river invites the viewer to 'travel' figuratively into the depth of the painting: our eye is led along the river towards the point at which the diagonals of the valley walls converge, and then continues on to the distant mountains, the slopes of which echo those of the valley.

The Mitta Mitta River provided von Guerard with subjects for a number of important compositions, including two versions of Spring in the Valley of the Mitta Mitta with the Bogong Ranges. Sir Archibald Michie commissioned the larger 1866 version for the National Gallery of Victoria and it was the first of the artist's works to enter the Gallery's collection. An inscription on the drawing for the present work, Mitta Mitta River, Victoria painted when von Guerard held the dual roles of inaugural Curator of the National Gallery of Victoria and Painting Master of the Gallery School, suggests that this work may have been painted for, or purchased by, John B. Rose.

It is highly likely that a work exhibited by von Guerard at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition under the title Track on the Mitta Mitta, Victoria is, in fact, the present work, Mitta Mitta River, Victoria.2 It was shown together with View on the Mitta Mitta, Victoria, possibly the work now known as Head of the Mitta Mitta, Eagle's View of the Mountains, 1879, held by the State Library of Victoria.

Mitta Mitta River, Victoria is presented in the original frame made by Isaac Whitehead of Collins Street East, von Guerard's preferred framer throughout the 1860s and 1870s.

1. Neumayer, G.v., Results of the Magnetic Survey of the Colony of Victoria, Schneider, Mannheim, 1869, p. 72
2. The Melbourne International Exhibition, The Official Catalogue of the Exhibits, Mason, Firth & McCutcheon, Printers, Melbourne, 1880, cat. nos. 87 and 88, p. 298.

Independent scholar and von Guerard specialist