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Australian art

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Blue Mountains



Arthur Streeton

Australia, England, Australia

08 Apr 1867 - 01 Sep 1943


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' (Art Gallery of New South Wales collection). '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', Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 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 Jane Clark and Bridget Whitelaw, 'Golden Summers: Heidelberg and beyond', International Cultural Corporation of Australia and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1985, 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.


Other Titles

Blasting on Blue Mountains

Sketch for Fire's On

Sketch-Blue Mountains

Cutting a tunnel, Blue Mountains

Sketch for Blue Mountains

Place where the work was made

Lapstone New South Wales Australia



Media category


Materials used

pencil, watercolour, opaque white on ivory wove paper on board


34.2 x 23.5 cm (irreg.) sheet, 34.6 x 24.1 cm board

Signature & date

Signed l.r., brown watercolour "A Streeton". Dated dated l.l., brown watercolour "91".


Purchased with funds provided by Don Mitchell Bequest Fund and the Australian Prints, Drawings and Watercolours Benefactors' Fund 2014


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Arthur Streeton

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 9 publications


Michael Brand, Look, 'From the Gallery director', pg. 13, Sydney, Sep 2014, 13, 14, 15 (colour illus.).

Jane Clark and Bridget Whitelaw, Golden summers: Heidelberg and beyond, Melbourne, 1985, 140. general reference by the artist to 'two watercolour gems'

Ann Galbally, Letters from Smike: the letters of Arthur Streeton, 1890-1943, 'Chapter 2: 1981' edited, pg. 26-41, Melbourne, 1989, 36, 37, 38. general reference to 'Blue Mountains' being one of a series of 'sketches' by the artist

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.).

Geoffrey Smith, Arthur Streeton, 1867-1943, South Yarra, 1995, 82, 84. general reference to 'Blue Mountains' as one of 'several sketches' made by artist

South Australian Society of Artists, South Australian Society of Arts 1893 Exhibition, Adelaide, 1893, 9. titled 'Blasting on Blue Mountains, N.S.W.'; 101

Clare Temple, Foundation Newsletter #24, 'Curators' and coordinators' reports', pg. 8-11, Sydney, Jul 2014, 10 (colour illus.).

Victorian Artists Society (Compilator), Victorian Artists Society exhibition of paintings, sculptures & drawings illustrated catalogue, Melbourne, May 1892, 30. either 'Sketch-Blue Mountains' 234 or 'Cutting a tunnel (sketch), Blue Mountains' 238

Editor Unknown (Editor), Argus, 'The Victorian Society of Artists. Annual exhibition', pg. 7, Melbourne, 30 May 1892, 7. titled 'Cutting a tunnel, Blue Mountains'.