Brighton, Victoria, Australia 1881 – Emerald, Victoria, Australia 1967
Good night in the gully where the white gums grow.
1922 ink; paper etching and aquatint, printed in brown ink, from one plate
Edition: edition of 15
plate-mark 49.7 h x 46.5 w cm
Accession No: NGA 77.234
Equally at home etching iron girders or towering eucalypts, Jessie Traill is considered one of Australia’s most remarkable printmakers. Observant and adventurous, Traill was among a core group of woman whose financial independence allowed them to concentrate on their art. She began studying painting and drawing in 1901, at the age of 20, first through a local sketching group and then in earnest at the National Gallery School in Melbourne. In 1903 she began to take etching lessons with John Mather, a prominent Melbourne printmaker who followed the painter-etcher tradition associated with British-based artist, James Whistler. Following the sudden death of her father, Traill moved to England to study with key printmaker Frank Brangwyn, who brought a bold and experimental quality to her printmaking.
Traill returned to Australia in 1909 and took inspiration from the bushland surrounding her cottage in Harkaway, Victoria. In her town studio, she produced tonal aquatints of the moon-lit tree-scapes around her rural property, which convey her deep connection to the land. Her luminous Good night in the gully where the white gums grow is regarded as one of her most beautiful prints. Large in scale and subtle in texture, Traill’s depiction of thin sinuous tree trunks and silhouettes against a distant sky is turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau in style. Her cropped composition, however, with the young saplings beginning and ending outside of the picture frame, is a daring innovation and foreshadows Fred Williams’ classic vision of the Australian bush.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014
Jessie Traill was arguably the finest etcher working in Australia during the first half of the 20th century. A student of the Scottish artist John Mather, who had settled in Melbourne in 1878, she later travelled to England where she worked with the painter–etcher Frank Brangwyn, from whom she learned to work boldly and on a large scale.
In the 1920s and 1930s, at a time when women producing prints in Australia were expected to practise such ‘friendly little crafts’* as the woodcut and linocut, Traill created large and technically demanding etchings, often with added aquatint to give tonal richness.
Good night in the gully where the white gums grow, produced in Melbourne in 1922, is one of her most beautiful prints. Large in scale and subtle in texture, the print, with its depiction of thin sinuous tree trunks and silhouettes against a distant sky, is turn of the century, Art Nouveau in style. However, the composition, with the young gum trees beginning and ending outside the picture frame, is a daring innovation and foreshadows Fred Williams’s classic vision of the Australian bush.
Traill spanned the generations. She was a friend of Tom Roberts and later took over his Melbourne studio, but was also a friend of a younger generation. It was Traill who taught Arthur Boyd the rudiments of etching.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002