The State Library holds a couple of William Strutt’s paintings in their permanent collection, on display, but this exhibition holds a lot more for art lovers and artists to enjoy.
What I found of greatest importance as an artist and art student, was the inclusion of so many preliminary sketches and water colours that accompanied the finished oil paintings. This is a fantastic way to get inside the head of an Academically trained painter, to see how he studied so many aspects of his work before he laid brush to canvas for the completed oil painting.
Strutt, who was the son and grandson of artists, had the advantage of training in England and Paris before coming to Australia for a brief period from 1850-1862. It was during his time here that he learnt more about the Australian landscape and natural fauna, that he depicted so well in his paintings. The paintings in this collection indicate Strutt’s ability to observe and paint dogs, horse, cows, kangaroos, and even pigs beautifully. He also painted portraits showing his skill with the human form.
Another interesting aspect to this exhibition was the range of work that Strutt did. He painted historic landscapes, religious themes, portraits, and contemporary issues disguised as symbolic humour in works like the pair of paintings subtitled Bit and Bitten 1889, and An Irish Obstructionist 1872.
As Strutt returned to England many of his paintings were completed overseas from his drawings and water colour sketches. Black Thursday 1851, probably his most iconic and well-known work is an example.
Sadly, Strutt was working in a genre that was becoming out of favour during the mid to late 19th century. Impressionism was gaining popularity and the Australian Impressionist movement that took over as the most recognised representation of Australian art into the early 20th century. The emergence of such painters as Streeton and McCubbin would mean that Strutt would be forgotten by many, which is a shame considering his obvious talent at creating emotionally charged paintings from our past.
I often return to the library and take time to visit Strutt’s works, as they hold an attraction for me as a painter and lover of history. I hope that this exhibition will encourage others to do the same, and discover what he still has to say to us today.
William Strutt. Black Thursday, February 6th. Oil on canvas, 106 x 343 cm. La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
William Strutt. Preliminary sketches. Courtesy of the ABC, Photo by Hannah Walmsley.
Janice Mills. Sketch of William Strutt Life Drawing. 2016. Copyright Janice Mills Fine Artist.