Blue Mountain tunnel
incorrectly inscribed 1892 (1891)
Australia, England, Australia
08 Apr 1867 - 01 Sep 1943
Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts are celebrated for having given a distinctly Australian flavour to landscape painting at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, painting what is popularly considered an Australian version of Impressionism. It was Streeton's ability to create a particularly convincing sensation of Australian space and light in his paintings, with fresh and vigorous paint handling, that most sets him apart from his friends and contemporaries. On the recommendation of Julian Ashton, his painting 'Still glides the stream, and shall for ever glide' 1890, was purchased by the Gallery in the year it was painted. It was also the first painting by him to be bought by a public gallery, precipitating his move to Sydney. Furthermore, it is one of several masterpieces by Streeton in the Gallery's collection, rivalling his archetypal 'Fire's on' 1891 (purchased in 1893), 'The railway station, Redfern' 1893, and 'Cremorne pastoral' 1895.
This watercolour is not a study for the painting 'Fire's on' but an independent work, preceding the painting rather than following it, contrary to its inscribed date. Streeton enthusiastically referred to it in a letter to Frederick McCubbin in October 1891 (refer to Croll 'Smike to Bulldog' 1946, pg. 20-22) and it was included in the Gallery's exhibition of selected works from its watercolour competition of 1891. It also attracted the attention of a reviewer for the 'Sydney Morning Herald' who, on 1 December 1891, noted that this watercolour:
'... does not appear to have been viewed with favour by the trustees. But it will more than repay a second look, and there may be some visitors who might think its merits entitle it to a place beside some of the pictures chosen. The subject is a 'Blue Mountain Tunnel' and the choice appears to us to be as characteristic as the treatment is admirable. There is the iron track, with the sandy mounds turned up on each side, and the masses of rock through which the workers have driven their way - colour, tone and subject all strikingly real.'
Streeton entered the watercolour in the Gallery's 1891 watercolour prize unsigned or inscribed, as was required, dating it (incorrectly) only on its return to him.
Blue Mountain Tunnel
Cutting the tunnel, Blue Mountains
incorrectly inscribed 1892 (1891)
pencil, watercolour, Chinese white highlights on paper
73.6 x 58.5 cm sheet; 101.2 x 83.0 x 3.5mm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.l. corner, brown watercolour "Streeton/ 1892 [sic]".
Gift of Howard Hinton 1937
Not on display
Shown in 16 exhibitions
Watercolour drawings competition - scenery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 Nov 1891–01 Jan 1892
Exhibition of paintings, sculpture and drawings, Victorian Artists Society, Melbourne, 27 May 1892 -
Society of Artists Spring Exhibition (1897), Vickery's Chambers, Sydney, 02 Oct 1897 -
Loan exhibition of Australian Art (1918), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Apr 1918–1918
Society of Artists annual exhibition (1935), Education Department Gallery [Loftus Street], Sydney, 06 Sep 1935–04 Oct 1935
Arthur Streeton memorial exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Apr 1945–20 May 1945
Australian watercolours from the National Art Gallery collection 1836-1946, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 May 1946–Jun 1946
Howard Hinton memorial exhibition (1948), National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 13 Apr 1948–30 Apr 1948
Australian images: Prints, drawings and watercolours from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Dec 1979–28 Jan 1980
Nineteenth century Australian watercolours from the collection (1991), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 13 Apr 1991–07 Jul 1991
Paint on the tracks: Australian artists and the railway, S.H. Ervin Gallery, The Rocks, 22 Apr 1994–29 May 1994
Australian watercolours 1880s to 1990s:
- National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne 08 Dec 1995–12 Feb 1996
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 11 Oct 1996–24 Nov 1996
Australian icons: twenty artists from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Aug 2000–03 Dec 2000
19th century Australian watercolours, drawings & pastels, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 Apr 2005–24 Jul 2005
Going West (working title), Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest, Emu Plains, 01 Jan 2020–31 Dec 2020
Referenced in 30 publications
Jane Clark, Golden summers: Heidelberg and beyond, 'Naturalism and Nationalism', pg. 128-149, Melbourne, 1985, 140.
Gavin Fry, Paint on the tracks: Australian artists and the railway, 'Introduction', pg. 7-10, Sydney, 1994, 7, 20, 21 (colour illus.), 48. cat.no. 5
Anne Gray, Radical revisionism: an anthology of writings on Australian art, 'Arthur Streeton: shadows and symbols', pg. 175-181, Brisbane, 2005, 175.
Robert Hughes, The art of Australia, 'The heidelberg school 1885-96', pg. 53-73, Melbourne, 1970, 63.
Hendrik Kolenberg, 19th century Australian watercolours, drawing and pastels from the Gallery's collection, 'Introduction', pg. 6-16, Sydney, 2005, 4 (colour illus., detail), 12, 100, 101 (colour illus.).
Hendrik Kolenberg, Australian watercolours 1880s to 1990s, 'Introduction: Painting in watercolour', pg. 8-16, Sydney, 1995, 10, 24 (colour illus.), 25. cat.no. 9
Hendrik Kolenberg, Look, 'Australian images from the past: whether rarely seen or familiar, these works move and delight us', pg. 24-27, Sydney, Apr 2005, 26.
Lionel Lindsay, Streeton memorial exhibition souvenir catalogue, Sydney, 1945. cat.no. 59
Lionel Lindsay, Howard Hinton memorial exhibition, 'Howard Hinton, OBE', pg. 2-3, Sydney, 1948, 18. cat.no. 117; titled 'Cutting the tunnel'
Barry Pearce and Haruo Arikawa, Two hundred years of Australian painting: nature, people and art in the southern continent, Tokyo, 1992, 79 (colour illus.).
Barry Pearce, Art and Australia (Vol. 23, No. 4), '"Fire's on": some thoughts on a national icon', pg. 527-530, Sydney, Winter 1986, 530 (colour illus.).
Jeff Rigby., Oz Arts magazine [issue 9], 'Fire's on: the circumstances surrounding the painting by Arthur Streeton of 'Fire's on!' and the Lapstone railway tunnel deviation of 1891', Wentworth Falls, Spring 2016, (colour illus.).
D.H. Souter, Art and architecture: the journal of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales, 'Arthur Streeton, artist and his Australian work', pg. 225-229, Sydney, 1905, 226 (illus.).
Arthur Streeton, The Arthur Streeton catalogue, Melbourne, 1935, 116. cat.no. 115; titled 'Fires on, Glenbrook'
Sydney Ure Smith and Leon Gellert (Editors), Art in Australia [series 3, no. 60], Sydney, Aug 1935, 29 (colour illus.).
R.H. Goddard, Lionel Lindsay and C.B. Newling, A memorial volume to Howard Hinton patron of art, Sydney, 1951, 139 (illus.). cat.no. 117; titled 'Cutting the tunnel'
Geoffrey Dutton, Arthur Streeton 1867-1943 a biographical sketch, Brisbane, 1987, 32, 82-83 (colour illus.).
Robert Croll (Editor), Smike to bulldog: letters from Sir Arthur Streeton to Tom Roberts, Sydney, 1946, 5, 20, 21, 47 (colour illus.), dust jacket (colour illus.).
Trustees of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australian watercolours from the National Art Gallery collection 1836 to 1946, Sydney, 1946, 4-5, 9. cat.no. 12
Ann Galbally and Anne Gray (Editors), Letters from Smike: the letters of Arthur Streeton, 1890-1943, Melbourne, 1989, 36, 37, 40.
Robert Croll, Tom Roberts: father of Australian landscape painting, Melbourne, 1935, 186.
Editor Unknown (Editor), Magazine of art, 'Spring exhibitions of pictures, Sydney, N.W.Wales', pg. 341, London, May 1898, 341.
Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Opening the new gallery, the Society of Artists, an arts and crafts exhibition', pg. 7, Sydney, 02 Oct 1897, 7.
Maurice Brodzky (Editor), Table talk, 'The Victorian artists exhibition', pg. 7, Melbourne, 27 May 1892, 7.
Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, 'An exhibition of watercolours', pg. 5, Sydney, 01 Dec 1891, 5.
Christopher Wray, Arthur Streeton: painter of light, Milton, 1993, 80.
Jane de Teliga, Australian images: Prints, drawings and watercolours from the collection, Sydney, 1979, 9.
Geoffrey Smith, Arthur Streeton, 1867-1943, '"City of laughing loveliness! sun-girdled Queen!" Sydney 1890-97', pg. 67-130, South Yarra, 1995, 82, 83 (colour illus.). cat.no. 32
Ann Galbally, Arthur Streeton, Melbourne, 1969, 80 (illus.). cat.no. 45
Alan McCulloch, The golden age of Australian painting - Impressionism and the Heidelberg school, Melbourne, 1969, 178 (illus.). plate no. 36