Castlemaine in central Victoria was part of the great gold rush in the 1880’s. The legacy of that wealth and aspiration, is a bounty of surviving period buildings. The Castlemaine Art Gallery stands apart from the Victorian architecture, it is an amazing Neo Classical building built in 1933, and although small in scale has a stateliness that would not feel out of place in Gotham city. It’s small collection of early Australian art has some real gems of great importance, that in their own right are beautiful depictions of early Melbourne, but also important lamp posts in in the desire to bring cultural modernity to the developing colony.
McCubbin’s View of a Paddock in Hawthorn in 1883 is reminiscent of a great Constable study. Broody and full of atmosphere, the work has a profound optimism in face of the isolation of the new and daunting land. Seen in context to his masterpiece Lost (1886), this small work is powerful and rewarding and a precursor to his more famous work three years later.
Golden Sunlight painted by McCubbin 30 years later in 1914 was a gift of Dame Nellie Melba. It is a view across the Yarra River from South Yarra and strikes an air of greater confidence and maturity in the newly federated country of Australia. It is a stately and powerful work, and has a dialogue with Streetons paintings of Sydney.
An impression of Collins Street painted by Shearsby in 1910 is a wonderful painting and reminiscent of Pissaro’s Boulevard Montmartre which was acaquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1905. It is technically a beautifully executed work, bouncing with the vitality and vibrancy of the burgeoning city. It pulses with energy, and unlike Pisarros work which evokes the timeless grandeur of Paris, speaks to Melbourne’s place as capital of Australia. This painting alone is worth the trip to Castlemaine
My favourite painting is Winter Calm by Penleigh Boyd in 1920. It is a view of Frankston; undeveloped, rural, calm and majestic. The blue of the still waters of Port Phillip shimmer and float on the deep, grey and steely waters that lie below its surface. It is a calm that sits nonchalantly above the power and the potential of the winter waters. It is perhaps the landscape metaphor that McCubbin was chasing but never quite resolved with the quiet power of this work.
A view on Princess Bridge was painted by Wilson in 1935, and like Boyd’s work provides the viewer with a rather romantic historical perspective on the development of Melbourne. The painting could be a view of London or Paris; it aggrandizes Melbourne’s provincial character but it’s foremost character is its depiction of an early winter morning. Make the trip to Castlemaines Art Gallery, it is a worthwhile exercise for a winter weekend.