Conrad Martens
'View from Rose Bank' 1840
From the James Fairfax collection, gift of Bridgestar Pty Ltd 1993

From 1835 until his death in 1878, British-born Conrad Martens lived and worked in Sydney, making occasional sketching expeditions along the coast and into the nearby ranges. Some years later, he travelled by ship to the newly-established settlement at Brisbane and returned by the Darling Downs and the New England tableland.

Although Martens had a facility in oils to match his skill in watercolours, it was the latter medium that aroused his greatest enthusiasm. As an artist, he allowed himself the right to adjust the details of his subjects so that they would relate in ways that conformed to the requirements of picture making as he understood them. He was willing to falsify the fact, but only if the falsifications brought the facts of nature into a closer harmony with the demands of art.

By the 1870s, the colony had broken through the barrier of the coastal ranges and was opening out towards the west. The discovery of gold was an incentive, townships grew and railways were built to link them with the city on the coast. The steep western escarpment of the Great Dividing Range necessitated a zig-zag track on a series of massive viaducts, and it was this engineering feat in its wild natural setting that caught Martens's imagination.

The View from Rose Bank is one of the most Italianate of Martens's landscapes, and one of the most pleasing. He has made little attempt to render the scene in factual terms but converted it into a dreamy, light-drenched vision of patrician villas, gracious parklands and sky-reflecting water such as one might find in the Alban Hills near Rome, or around the lakes of Northern Italy. Even the colour has changed, from a palette which normally favoured the warmer tints and deeper tones to one pitched higher and on the cooler side.

James Gleeson, 2002. (1)

(1) Text edited from James Gleeson, Colonial Painters: 1788--1880, Melbourne: Landsdowne, 1971; Masterpieces of Australian Painting, Melbourne: Lansdowne, 1969.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

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