Isaac Whitehead
'A Sassafras gully, Gippsland' c. 1870
Rex Nan Kivell collection: National Library of Australia and National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Isaac Whitehead painted a number of views of the forest scenery of Gippsland in Victoria—with large trees, tree-fern gullies and clear springs. The trees in Gippsland were famed for their colossal size, with the mountain ash trees being among the largest in the world.

Whitehead gave an impression of the grandeur of the mountain forest in this Sassafras valley by adopting a high viewpoint, which emphasised the gigantic proportions of the trees rising from the dense mass of ferns. He also indicated the magnitude of the forest industry by depicting a tiny bullock cart carrying a huge load of split timber. He made the image more dramatic by using shafts of light to illuminate the tree trunks and a small area of the forest floor.

Whitehead emigrated to Australia from Ireland in 1853. By 1860 he had established himself as the principal picture framer in Melbourne, creating frames that were elaborately decorated with floral motifs. (The frame that is currently on this work is a replica, made by David Butler from moulds of original Whitehead frames.) He supplied fine gilt frames to Australian artists Eugene von Guérard, Nicholas Chevalier and Louis Buvelot.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

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