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(Fern tree gully)



Thomas Clark

Australia, England

03 Dec 1813 - 21 Apr 1883


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.

Natalie Wilson
Curator, Australian & Pacific Art


Other Title

(Fern gully with Aboriginal family)



Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


40.3 x 64.5 cm

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l. corner, pale green oil "Thos. Clark 1862/ ...".


Purchased 1970

Accession number


Artist information

Thomas Clark

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

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. 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.