(The Red Bluff, Point Ormond from St Kilda)
- Thomas Clark
- (The Red Bluff, Point Ormond from St Kilda)
- watercolour on paper
- 31 x 52 cm
Red Bluff, Elwood, before levelling
oil on canvas
40.5 x 66.5 cm
Port Phillip City Council Collection, acquired 1996
“The coastal scene is Red Bluff, Elwood, before levelling. Whereas the wetland area north of St Kilda was formed into Albert Park Lake, the low lying area to the south was reclaimed in the 1890s, to become the suburb of Elwood. The source of the landfill was Red Bluff, which in effect no longer exists, whilst the location is now known as Point Ormond. The painting is of further interest for the features shared with Clark’s Western District paintings: the assured handling of rocky surfaces as seen with the cliff-face, the cloudy and moist looking sky reminiscent of England and the scattered placement of figures; all being clues to recognising paintings by Clark in the absence of his signing them.”
Peter Dowling and Daniel McOwen, Exposing Thomas Clark A Colonial Artist in Western Victoria, Hamilton Art Gallery, 2013, p.23
Thomas Clark is a rather elusive figure. He is said to have been born in London in 1814 and worked as drawing master at the Birmingham School of Design, before arriving in Melbourne in late 1852 where he remained until his death in 1883. He established himself as a landscape painter through the lens of English painting trends, although was far from a prolific artist. The subdued range of his palette, the thin application of paint and the moist atmosphere he depicted, all reflect his English sensibility. He taught at the Artisans School of Design, Collingwood in 1856 and was appointed the first Drawing Master of the School of Design at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1870 – 1876 where he counted among his students Frederick McCubbin and Tom Roberts. The comparative rarity of his work, so much of which remains in Western Victoria where his best work was done, has meant he has until recently never received the attention he truly deserves.
Clark painted several views around Melbourne including Red Bluff, Elwood. The area now known as Point Ormond was originally called Red Bluff in 1839 and a quarantine station was established there from 1840. Red Bluff was levelled in 1906 and used to fill in the swampy lands of Elwood.
In a comparison of this work with Clark’s painting The Red Bluff, Point Ormond, Daniel McOwan notes the strong compositional similarities – the twisted trees on the left, the sand-spits into the ocean, the billowing cloud at horizon level and the slightly darkened left-hand foreground.
Clark often used people in his landscapes to enhance the sense of the wonder of nature through the juxtaposition with small figures. The dis-juncture of scale is here being used to emphasise depth, with large figures in the foreground, but the smaller figures probably being significantly smaller than perhaps expected. There is an element of artistic licence in this but it is also typical of Clark’s work.