(Australia, England, Australia 08 Apr 1867 – 01 Sep 1943)
32.0 x 22.6 cm sight; 59.5 x 44.3 cm frame
In late 1891, Streeton spent about 2-3 months living at Glenbrook, in the Blue Mountains, when he painted his iconic masterpiece, 'Fire's on' (AGNSW). 'Fire's on' was the cry of the workers, who were cutting a railway tunnel through the mountains at Lapstone, just before a blast was detonated.
In a letter to Tom Roberts dated October 1891, Streeton wrote: I've been pegging on at my work between the 'blasts'- & have not been here a fortnight - & have done two w.colour gems - besides a number of sketches - & can do very little more to em strikes me" (Ann Galbally and Anne Gray (editors), Letters from Smike, the letters of Arthur Streeton 1890 - 1943 South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1989 p 36).
The tunnel project was a major feat of engineering and was at the time considered 'one of the greatest wonders of the colony - perhaps it may be said - of the world' (Josiah Hughes Australia revisited in 1890, quoted in Golden Summers p 140). Streeton wrote with great enthusiasm of his time there spent painting, observing the work and the workers themselves. What a boom of thunder shakes the rock and me. It echoes through the hills and dies away 'mid the crashing of tons of rock; some lumps fly hundreds of feet sometimes and fall and fly everywhere among the trees; and then a thick cloud laden with fumes of the blasting powder (Streeton to Frederick McCubbin, October 1891, see Golden Summers p 140)
This watercolour gives the impression of having been executed quickly en plein air, capturing a dramatic moment. The landscape is notational, with the trees in particular having elegant fluidity. The picture plane is compressed, the palette limited and relatively subdued (possibly suggesting it was painted at a different time of day). There is a strong focus on the moment of the blast, with a flurry of opaque white pigment at the centre of the composition, capturing the energy of the explosion as it detonates from the rock face.
Michael Brand, Look, 'From the Gallery director', pg. 13, Newtown, Sep 2014, 13, 14, 15 (colour illus.).
Clare Temple, Foundation Newsletter #24, 'Curators' and coordinators' reports', pg. 8-11, Sydney, Jul 2014, 10 (colour illus.).
Editor Unknown (Editor), The Brisbane courier, 'Queensland Art Society.', pg. 5, Brisbane, 19 Aug 1893, 5. titled 'Cutting a tunnel, Blue Mountains'.