The Art Gallery of NSW with Nineteenth Century Literature Students.


What a blast to be given the opportunity to try to link literary themes to artistic expression in the visual arts!. I think I learnt as much as the students! Perhaps the most important insight of the morning is the extent to which Romanticism as expressed through early Australian art, gives such a powerful vision of what Romanticism, globally, was all about.

We began with this wonderful painting by John Glover “Ullswater Early Morning”  (1824) which gives such insight into how the Romantics in England saw landscape and what impact it had on the viewer. Wordsworth was still living in the Lake District at the time and it is nice to imagine that Wordsworth (aged 54 in 1824) might actually have met John Glover (who was 3 years older than Wordsworth). At all events this painting shows so many of the features that Wordsworth clearly would have enjoyed. He loved the shapes of mountains that gave a sense of the life force living inside them. Here are some good examples of what Wordsworth would have called “those beauteous forms of nature”. He would also have loved that sense of serenity, that atmosphere that creates a sense of a powerful presence in nature. He also would have loved the way Glover creates such a rhythmic sense of movement  in the painting. The eye follows the sun-drenched slope on the right and then follows the flow of the shape of the dark valley from the right up to the left. Wordsworth’s poems do in words, in rhythm and rhyme, what Glover succeeds in doing in brush strokes and colour contrasts:


Glover’s later paintings of the landscape of Tasmania, showed how his Romantic interests continued but were transformed by the shape of a new landscape. Glover was fascinated by this continent untouched by industrialization. It was clearly a new kind of “Eden”, a new beginning for the human race!  Here is “Natives on the Ouse River” (1838)


Listen to the audio of our wander through the gallery below to get some more insights into this work.

We then moved on to looking at the huge contrasts between this benign Romantic view of the landscape with those views that emphasised the overpowering, awesome aspect of the landscape. Here the artist is painting his/ her sense of how the landscape is filled with force or power that is beyond human control, but that is also worth reverencing. Here is one example from the Swiss born immigrant artist Eugene Von Guerard. “A fig tree on American Creek near Wollongong, NSW”. Like Glover, Guerard, captured the sense of nature being full of a powerful energy that communicated itself through its shapes, its colours, its grand atmospherics:


After our journey through Romanticism we explored the Enlightenment artists that would have been hateful to the likes of William Blake. Blake thought that Joshua Reynolds was the death of art. And then finally we explored at length some of the key themes of the Victorian Age. These paintings will come back into focus in the next few weeks as we move into Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.

Blog Questions on the links between Romantic Poetry and Romantic Painting: Keep the Blogs short this week! But try, if you can to comment on one or two of your peers- find them in the list of WordPress URLs in LEO !

Creative or Critical Question:

Of all the paintings you have looked at closely connected with the 19th Century which painting do you prefer. Describe it in detail. This is called Ekphrastic writing. Tell the story in your own words. You could also answer the question:what do you think motivated the painter to produce this work. Or you could write a poem or story that builds on/ is influenced by this work of art….. Over to you

Critical Question: 

Briefly describe your sense of the value of going to the Art Gallery of NSW as a literature student? Did it seem a worthwhile activity? Did it enlarge your sense of what Romantic Literature is all about?

This year’s audio: 

Here is last year’s audio:

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