'The flood in the Darling 1890' is one of several ambitious canvases painted by WC Piguenit in response to the devastating rains that inundated the western region of New South Wales in 1890. It reflects his respect for the terrifying yet sublime power of nature so admired by exponents of 19th-century German Romantic painting. The largest flood recorded since 1864, waters broke the embankment and submerged the remote township of Bourke – an event Piguenit witnessed first hand. However, rather than depicting the destroyed buildings and railway lines, and the loss of livestock and human life, he has rendered the calm after the deluge. A vast expanse of sky, land and water is rendered as a symphonic celebration, with billowing purplish-hued clouds reflected across a vast glistening expanse reaching towards the viewer – ibises the only living creatures populating the tranquil landscape.
Son of a convict transported to Van Diemen's Land in 1830, William Charles Piguenit was raised and schooled in Hobart, and spent 22 years working in the Department of Lands survey office as a draughtsman. Although he received rudimentary instruction in painting, he was largely self taught. After leaving the survey office in 1872, he began making sketching and photography trips to remote and spectacular regions in the Tasmanian wilderness. He achieved early success through public patronage when he exhibited his works in the annual Sydney and Melbourne academy shows.
His striking 'Mount Olympus, Lake St Clair, Tasmania, source of the Derwent' was the first work by an Australian-born artist to be acquired, in 1875, by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. That same year, Piguenit joined an artists and photographers camp in the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains. By 1880 Piguenit had settled in Sydney with his family. Continued patronage by the Gallery enabled him to tour New South Wales and Tasmania, providing fresh inspiration for his grand, sweeping landscapes and measured studies of the natural environment.
Piguenit continued his successful career well into the 20th century, including the completion, in 1903, of the commanding 'Mount Kosciusko' which was commissioned by the trustees of this Gallery; the majestic depiction of the continent’s highest peak marking the enormity of the Federation of Australia in 1901.
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oil on canvas
122.5 x 199.3 cm stretcher; 172.5 x 248.6 x 16.0 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed l.l. corner, "W.C. Piguenit". Not dated.
Shown in 6 exhibitions
Sixteenth Annual Exhibition of the Art Society of New South Wales (1895), Society Rooms, Union Chambers, Sydney, 28 Sep 1895 -
A retrospective exhibition of Australian painting, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 25 Sep 1953–25 Oct 1953
W.C. Piguenit 1836-1914:
New Worlds From Old: Australian and American Landscape Painting in the Nineteenth Century:
- National Gallery of Australia, Parkes 07 Mar 1998–17 May 1998
- Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, United States of America 12 Sep 1998–06 Dec 1998
- The Corcoran Gallery of Art, United States of America 26 Jan 1999–18 Apr 1999
The triumph of landscape: Turner to Monet, National Gallery of Australia, Parkes, 14 Mar 2008–09 Jul 2008
Australia, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 21 Sep 2013–08 Dec 2013
Referenced in 50 publications
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 75 (colour illus.).
Julian Ashton., Daily telegraph, ‘National Art Gallery: The Australian Court’, Sydney, 27 Sep 1905, unknown.
William Barton (Editor), Wilderness, the future: papers from the fourth National Wilderness Conference, 1993, Sydney, 1994, 176 (illus.).
Tim Bonyhady, Images in opposition: Australian landscape painting 1801–1890, 'The wilderness intact', pg. 81-86, Melbourne, 1985, opposite pg. 82 (colour illus.), 84. plate no. 13
Edmund Capon, Art Gallery of New South Wales: highlights from the collection, Sydney, 2008, 57 (colour illus.).
Edmund Capon and Jan Meek (Editors), Portrait of a Gallery, 'Australian Art in the Old Courts', pg. 24-37, Sydney, 1984, 26 (colour illus.).
Jane Clark, Art Monthly Australia, 'New worlds from old: 19th Century Australian and American landscape', pg. 4-6, Canberra, May 1998, 4-6, 5 (illus.).
Deutscher-Menzies, Sydney and Lawson-Menzies, Deutscher-Menzies & Lawson-Menzies, Sydney: Major fine art auction - 25 March 2009, Sydney, 2009, 58-59. NOTE: Related work; lot no. 35; titled 'The flood on the Darling River, New South Wales'; dated circa 1890; oil on canvas.
Dinah Dysart, Art and Australia (Vol. 29, No. 4), 'W.C. Piguenit: 19th century environmentalist', pg. 480-487, Sydney, Winter 1992, 485 (illus.).
George Galway, Fifty years of Australian art 1879-1929, New South Wales, 1929, 55 (sepia).
Grafton Galleries, Exhibition of Australian art in London, London, 1898. cat.no. 100
Anne Gray, Australia, 'Art nation: Australian landscape 1880-1920', pg. 146-183, London, 2013, 153, 155 (colour illus.). cat.no. 92
Simon Gregg, New romantics: darkness and light in Australian art, ‘The Australian sublime’, pg. 27-45, North Melbourne, 2011, 35, 36 (colour illus.).
Sasha Grishin, Australian art: a history, 'The tyranny of landscape art in post-gold rush Australia', pg. 104-115, Carlton, 2013, 104 (colour illus., detail), 106, 107, 547, 567. plate no. 12.3
David Hansen, Australian book review, 'Bold claims and paradoxes', pg. 12-13, South Australia, Mar 2009, 13. Book review of John McDonald's 'The Art of Australia, vol 1: Exploration to Federation'.
Stuart Hill and Martin Mulligan, Ecological pioneers: a social history of Australian ecological thought and action, 'Seeing the land in a new light: people and landscapes in Australian art', pg. 34-71, Cambridge, 2001, 43.
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Painting and Sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 121 (colour illus.).
Christa E. Johannes and Tony Brown, W.C. Piguenit 1836-1914: retrospective, Hobart, 1992, 30-31, 48, 59 (colour illus.), 104. cat.no. 37
Paul Kane, Drowned lands: poems, South Carolina, 2000, dust jacket (colour illus., front cover).
Ewen McDonald, The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 20 (colour illus.), 21.
John McDonald, Art of Australia. Vol 1: Exploration to Federation, ‘The mania and force of the stream’, pg. 149-224, Sydney, 2008, 218-219 (colour illus.).
Hal Missingham, A retrospective exhibition of Australian painting, Sydney, 1953. cat.no. 57
Les Moseley, Look, 'Be guided and beguiled: Another way of looking at our gallery', pg.12-13, Sydney, May 2008, 13 (colour illus.).
National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Catalogue of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1899, Sydney, 1899, 47 (illus.).
H.R. Nicholls (Editor), Mercury, 'Epitome of news', pg. 2, Hobart, 07 Oct 1895, 2.
H.R. Nicholls (Editor), Mercury, Hobart, 07 Oct 1895, page unknown.
Emily O'Gorman, Flood country: an environmental history of the Murray-Darling Basin, Collingwood, 2012, front cover (colour illus.).
Emilie Owens, Turner to Monet: the triumph of landscape painting, 'W.C. Piguenit', pg. 144, Canberra, 2008, 144, 145 (colour illus.). cat.no. 49
Robert Pascoe, Overland (no. 175), 'Landscapes of childhood', pg. 27-29, Melbourne, Winter 2004, 28 (illus.).
Barry Pearce, Creating Australia: 200 years of art 1788-1988, 'Deluge of Pitiless Silence', pg.104-105, Melbourne, 1988, 8, 104-105, 105 (colour illus.), 234-235, 247.
Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 16-17.
Ron Radford, Our country: Australian Federation landscape 1900-1914, 'Big pictures', pg. 36-46, Adelaide, 2001, 38, 42.
Royal Art Society of New South Wales, Art Society of New South Wales Sixteenth Annual Exhibition Catalogue, Sydney, 1895, 8, 9 (b&w line drawing). cat.no. 25; price £157.10.0
Anne Ryan, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Colonial eyes', pg. 17-36, Sydney, 2000, 18, 36 (colour illus.), 301.
Andrew Sayers, New Worlds From Old, 'The shaping of Australian landscape painting', pg. 53-70, Parkes, 1997, 64-65, 185 (colour illus.), 199. cat.no. 89
Bernard William Smith, Australian painting 1788-1970, South Melbourne, 1971, 63 (illus.).
Martin Terry, Masterpieces of Australian Painting, Sydney, 1984, 46-47 (colour illus.).
Editor Unknown, The Artist, London, 1898, 106, 108 (illus.).
Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 26 Oct 1897, page unknown.
Editor Unknown (Editor), Daily telegraph, Sydney, 31 Oct 1896, page unknown.
Editor Unknown (Editor), Sydney mail and New South Wales advertiser, Sydney, 12 Oct 1895, 75 (illus.).
Editor Unknown (Editor), Mercury, 'Review of the year 1895', Hobart, 01 Jan 1895, 3, 4.
Editor Unknown (Editor), Landscapes of the Murray-Darling Basin 1998, Canberra, 1998, colour illus..
Editor Unknown (Editor), Bulletin, Sydney, 05 Oct 1895, page unknown.
Editor Unknown, The Australian star, Sydney, 28 Sep 1895, page unknown.
Editor Unknown (Editor), Daily telegraph, 'The Art Society of New South Wales: Annual exhibition of pictures', Sydney, 28 Sep 1895, 10.
Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Pictures for the National Gallery'; 'Art Society's Exhibition', pg. 7, Sydney, 28 Sep 1895, 7.
Editor Unknown (Editor), Sotheby's Melbourne: Important Australian Art, 24 November 2008, Australia, 2008, 48.
Editor Unknown, The Tasmanian Mail, Hobart, 05 Mar 1898, page unknown.
Editor Unknown (Editor), Great Australian landscape paintings, Melbourne, 1973, 63 (colour illus.). plate no. 20