I recently visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. There were many stunning paintings by masters of our craft, some of which I have previously written about on this website.
I will walk you through some of the paintings I saw, as I understand many of you may not be able to make it down to Australia to see the gallery for yourself.
The first thing I noticed was how a photo does not really give a painting justice; you really need to see original paintings in person to fully appreciate them. A photo does not give you a sense of scale, brushwork or craftsmanship that you get from seeing a painting in person.
The other thing I noticed was how art seems to have moved away from the technical craft it once was. The gallery was segmented into different time periods - 18th-century art, 19th-century art, 20th-century art and contemporary. Artists no longer seem to be as appreciated for careful rendering, accurate values or capturing the likeness of the subject. Rather, contemporary art seems to be focused on pushing the concept at all costs. Not that there is anything wrong with pushing the concept, but I do not think it should come at the complete sacrifice of technical display. As Nicolai Fechin once said:
“... a high degree of expertise in technique has always had, and always will have, a predominant place in art. The subject, in itself, has value only according to the mode of the day. Tomorrow it will be superseded by a new fashion or fad. With the passing of time, the subject loses much of its meaning. But the fine execution of that subject retains its value...”
Anyway, here are some of the paintings along with my commentary, starting with some stunning landscapes by Sir Arthur Streeton. I was excited to see so many paintings by Streeton at the gallery, as I have used many of his paintings as examples of fundamental painting techniques in previous posts. To me, his paintings are a perfect blend of abstraction, loose brushwork and accuracy (where it matters).
In the gallery, Streeton's paintings appeared remarkably realistic, despite them being painted with such a relaxed technique (which you can see in the close-ups).
A key part of Streeton's paintings is how he painted intricate details on top of a rough, colored ground (notice the delicate plants and flowers shooting up from the ground in the close-up below). This adds a level of sophistication to the paintings which is not obvious on first glance.
I saw paintings by many other familiar names, like Eugene Boudin.
I also saw paintings by artists who I was not familiar with which stopped me in my tracks, like A Spring Day by Friedrich Kallmorgen and The First Born by Gaston La Touche. It just goes to show how many brilliant artists there are to discover, both famous and less known.
The three landscapes below are incredibly large, so the photos do not give them justice. They remind me that sometimes you need to paint on a large scale to faithfully render the grand landscapes like these.
The delicate rendering of the subject below was amazing to see in person. Gordon Coutts created a beautiful contrast between the sharp edges and intricate detail used for the subject and the soft, tinted background which surrounds her.
I was not familiar with Albert Hanson but I loved the way he captured the glimmering colors through the dark foreground.
When I first looked at A Sailor's Yarn by Henry Scott Tuke I did not even notice the third subject (the man reclining in shadow). This is a great display of how to paint detail in dark areas.
I wrote about John Russell not that long ago (you can read the post here), so it was a pleasure to see some of his paintings in person.
There were several artworks by Sir Peter Paul Rubens at the gallery which were inspirational in terms of drawing.
Below is a portrait by Tom Roberts of Sir Arthur Streeton at the age of 24.
The Golden Fleece by Tom Roberts is a classic Australian painting. I remember studying this painting in my high school art classes, though I did not appreciate art history back then.
In the corner of the gallery was a small painting by Vincent van Gogh (the only van Gogh painting in the gallery). I think I prefer his more colorful works...
One of my favorite paintings from the day was by an artist who I had never heard about before, The Sea Hath Its Pearls by William Henry Margetson. The painting is actually circular, with a large, gold-colored frame (I had to crop the photo as it was too large). It was painted with mostly soft, pastel colors and appeared calming, especially when surrounded by the more dramatic paintings.
Thanks for Reading!
I hope you found these paintings as inspirational as I did. I was eager to pick up my brush as soon as I left the gallery with the thought that maybe one day I could create something as beautiful as the work by Streeton, Russell or any of the other master artists whose work was on display at the gallery.
If you have been to any inspirational art galleries yourself, please share them in the comments (I will put them on my list of places to visit).