During the 1850s 'pteridimania' - or Fern-Fever - seized Australian colonies, stirred by the phenomenon which took hold in Britain in the late 1830s. Fern-tree gullies found on the outskirts of Melbourne, particularly those in the Dandenong Ranges, became a dominant motif in both the decorative and fine arts. Wishing to convey the grandeur of Australian scenery to British audiences, colonial painters depicted the natural beauty of these gullies in works of exquisite detail.
London-born Thomas Clark painted '(Fern tree gully)' for Victoria's first Surveyor-General, Robert Hoddle, probably based on drawings Hoddle made in the 1840s during field trips in the Dandenong Ranges. Clark presents a verdant Arcadia in which an Aboriginal family is seen walking through the landscape, although by the mid-1850s the Wurundjeri people had been displaced by European settlement and the establishment of timber mills.
Curator, Australian & Pacific Art
(Fern gully with Aboriginal family)
oil on canvas
40.3 x 64.5 cm
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.l. corner, pale green oil "Thos. Clark 1862/ ...".
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia 1866-67, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, 24 Oct 1866–23 Feb 1867
Australian art in the 1870s:
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 25 Jun 1976–02 Aug 1976
- National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne 28 Oct 1976–21 Nov 1976
Referenced in 4 publications
Tim Bonyhady, Images in opposition: Australian landscape painting 1801–1890, 'An Aboriginal Arcadia', pg. 23-39, Melbourne, 1985, 37 (illus.), 175. titled 'Fern Gully'
Daniel Thomas, Australian art in the 1870s, 'Introduction', pg.4-6, Sydney, 1976, 21. cat.no. 66
Unknown and Unknown, Exposing Thomas Clark: a colonial artist in Western Victoria, Hamilton, 2013, 35-36, 37 (colour illus.), 97 (colour illus.). Work titled 'Fern gully with Aboriginal family'. Note: this work was not included in the exhibition.
Editor Unknown (Editor), Argus, 'Opening of the exhibition', pg. 5-7, Melbourne, 25 Oct 1866, 5-7. Review of the Melbourne Exhibition and 'The Fine Arts Gallery', with Thomas Clark's work 'Fern-tree Gully at Dandenong' listed.