Arthur Streeton

Sydney Harbour, 1895

Mosman Art Trail Sign 6 located Georges Head Lookout on grass.

Listen to an audio recording, read by Claudia Karvan, to learn more about this artwork. 

In June 1890, young impressionist artist Arthur Streeton travelled out of his home state for the first time to visit Mosman, staying at the artist’s camp in Goram Bullagong (Little Sirius Cove), known as Curlew Camp, first established as a weekend retreat by wealthy clothing manufacturer Reuben Brasch 1. Having already founded an artist’s camp in Heidelberg in Victoria, a crucible for the development of Australian Impressionism, Streeton was keen to recreate the experience in Sydney. Over the next few years he lived intermittently at the, now permanent, Curlew Camp alongside his friend and artistic peer Tom Roberts, and incessantly painted the foreshores of Sydney Harbour whose spectacular expanse of water was so enchanting. In 1891, a year before his relocation to the camp, Streeton wrote to a friend: “The Harbour is a wonder of spirit and life and movement today. Hundreds and hundreds of yachts are coursing over the purple sea (it is wine). The brilliant white sails cutting finely against the summer sky. Ferryboats puff and paddle along, crowded with the pleasure-loving folk…” 2

Painted from the dizzying vantage point along the cliff tops of Georges Head, Streeton’s narrow panorama Sydney Harbour displays the artist’s skillful construction of the contrasting colours and movements of the working harbour. At the time, the entire promontory of Middle Head between Clifton Gardens and Balmoral was reserved for military purposes, although this didn’t seem to have dissuaded Streeton from seeking a different aerial view of the harbour from the sandy, sea-level views he painted from his camp several coves over. This is also attested in the large painting Cremorne Pastoral, of the same year, immediately bought by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Although on canvas, the long and narrow horizontal format of Sydney Harbour replicates the format of drapers boards provided as cheap painting supports to the artists of the camp. Five years after this work was painted, the Sydney newspaper The Bulletin, celebrated Streeton as ‘the discoverer of Sydney harbour’.3 Writing in a 1919 special edition of the periodical Art in Australia, devoted to Streeton’s work, Julian Ashton described the monopoly the artist had on landscape paintings of Sydney Harbour, which he viewed as ‘unrivalled’. 4

Freely painted, with visible brushstrokes, Sydney Harbour is an impressionist painting with an informal structure and hazy effects. With brilliant sunshine bleaching the dappled pink sky and headlands, through which a pale daytime moon struggles to shine, Sydney Harbour glows with national optimism. Streeton’s painting demonstrates his masterful use of colour: passing ferries puffing great plumes of lilac smoke into the already hazy atmosphere, vast ships with three-tiered sails blending imperceptibly into the warm coastline of Watson’s Bay and brilliant white sails dancing across the currents of a deep ultramarine harbour. The flattened wall of blue water is the true subject of this work, the beating heart of this coastal city. The vastness of this view inspires awe, and draws the viewer in to inspect the minute details of Streeton’s brush recording the fleeting effects of light and movement in the landscape. 

1  Mimmocchi, D., ‘An Artist’s City: Streeton in Sydney’ in Tunnicliffe, W. (ed.), Streeton, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2020, p. 87
2  Galbally, A.,and Gray, A., Letters from Smike. The Letters of Arthur Streeton. 1980 - 1943, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989, p. 187 
3  ‘The Coming Australian’, The Bulletin, Sydney, vol. 21, no. 1069, 11 August 1900, p. 2 
4  Ashton, J., ‘Arthur Streeton’s Australian Work’, The Art of Arthur Streeton, special number of Art in Australia, Sydney Ure Smith, Sydney, 1919, p. 1

Text by Lucie Reeves-Smith.

Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 22 July 1987, lot 156 (as ‘Passing Ferries, Sydney Harbour’) 
Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne, 1988 
Sotheby's, Sydney, 22 November 1992, lot 284H (unsold, as ‘Sydney Harbour’) 
Sotheby’s, Melbourne, 28 April 1997, lot 222 (unsold, as ‘Sydney Harbour’) 
Sotheby's, Melbourne, 5 May 2003, lot 146
Private collection, New South Wales
Deutscher~Menzies, Sydney, 16 March 2005, lot 39 (unsold, as ‘Sydney Harbour’) 
Balnaves Collection, Sydney, acquired from the above 
Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney, a gift from the above in 2011 

Australian Art: 1920s - 1980s, Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne, 19 May - 3 June 1988, cat. 25 (illus. in exhibition catalogue) 

Photo credit Jacquie Manning

Additional Specifications

(1867 - 1943) 
oil on canvas 
19.0 x 61.0 cm
signed and dated lower right: A Streeton. / 95