Important Australian + International Fine Art
14 September 2022


(1882 - 1939)

oil on canvas

65.0 x 79.0 cm

signed lower right: GRUNER

Private sale

Walter D. Pye, New South Wales, by 1933
Sotheby's, Melbourne, 14 August 1989, lot 408 (as ‘The Entrance’)
James Fairfax AC, New South Wales
Thence by descent
Private collection, Sydney


Loan Exhibition of the Works of Elioth Gruner, National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 21 December 1932 – 21 February 1933, cat. 73 


Tildesley, B., ‘The Gruner Exhibition at the National Art Gallery’, Sydney Mail, Sydney, 28 December 1932, p. 17
Elioth Gruner’s Oil Paintings, special issue of Art in Australia Sydney, 3rd series, no. 50, 15 June 1933, p. 25 (illus., as ‘Gippsland Lakes’)
Dobson, R., Australia Land of Colour, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1962, p. 12 (illus., as ‘Gippsland Lakes, Victoria’)
Ingram, T., ‘Art Market’, in Art and Australia, Fine Arts Press, Sydney, vol. 27, no. 2, Summer 1989, p. 293 (illus., as ‘The Entrance’)  

We are grateful to the East Gippsland Historical Society; and Steven Miller, Head of the Edmund and Joanna Capon Research Library and Archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales, for their assistance with this catalogue entry.

Catalogue text

In the early months of 1930, Elioth Gruner stood on top of the summit now known as Eagle Point, ten kilometres south of Bairnsdale. Here on the lands of the Gunaikurnai people he painted Mitchell River, Victoria, c.1930 which shows the junction of the river as it flows into Jones Bay through a cutting made by an earlier flood. In the distance are the hills to the north of Bairnsdale whilst in the foreground lie a series of farmlets below the ‘Bluff’ at Eagle Point. To the right, just out of frame, run the unusually long natural phenomena known as the Mitchell River silt jetties. It is a harmonious view of a bucolic land unmistakeably shaped by European hands.

Until the early 1920s, Gruner had painted in the Barbizon-informed plein air manner championed by his teacher and then employer, Julian Ashton, for whom the young man was one of his favoured protégés. Gruner’s paintings of farmers and cattle in the frosty early morning were immensely popular and had already earned him three Wynne Prize awards between 1916 and 1921 (he went on to win another four by 1937). These earlier works were also distinguished by an almost impressionistic use of paint application and texture. He travelled to London in 1923 where he encountered the British artist Sir William Orpen, who openly criticised his work, advising Gruner to use a thinner, more pastel-like application of paint. Orpen also suggested that he place an increased emphasis on structure, pattern and rhythm of forms in the landscape, much in the manner of English modernist painters who also favoured painting such scenery from a high vantage point. Over the next years, Gruner concentrated on these ideas with increasing success and Mitchell River, Victoria shows his mature absorption of such strategies. It is also important to note that whilst other artists would have focussed on the unusual sequence of the silt jetties, Gruner instead recognised the stronger design inherent in the cropped aspect he chose here. In a review of similar paintings from 1930, one newspaper critic proclaimed Gruner’s ‘eloquent’ works were ‘of the first rank of landscape painting… [H]e has given us a new outlook on Australian landscape.’1

Mitchell River, Victoria is one of four known works from this Gippsland journey, with the others being Lakes Entrance, last exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1940; Bairnsdale, Victoria, not seen publicly since its sale at auction in 1974; and Valley near Bairnsdale, 1930, sold through Deutscher and Hackett in November 2021. Mitchell River, Victoria was also reproduced in colour in Art in Australia (as ‘Gippsland Lakes’) in an edition devoted to Gruner’s work in 1933. The magazine was a solid supporter of the artist throughout his career and had similarly featured his paintings in an earlier volume in 1929. Mitchell River, Victoria has been owned by two distinguished collectors, Dr. Walter Pye, who donated his family’s Darling Point mansion ‘Lindesay’ to the National Trust in 1963; and his close friend James Fairfax AC. The latter was forthright in his appreciation of Mitchell River, Victoria, and on Pye’s death, Fairfax purchased the painting, referring to it thereafter as ‘Walter’s Gruner.’

1. ‘An impression of the Society of Artists’ Annual Exhibition’, Art in Australia, 3rd series, no. 34, October – November 1930, p. 16