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Australian Art
Australian Impressionism gallery

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Mt Duneed, Victoria, Australia 1867 – Olinda, Victoria, Australia 1943

  • Movements: England 1897-1906, 1907-24

The selector's hut (Whelan on the log)
[The selector's hut] 1890 Eaglemont, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
paintings, oil on canvas
Technique: oil on canvas
Primary Insc: signed and dated l.r., oil "Streeton. 1890."
76.7 h x 51.2 w
framed (overall) 93.0 h x 69.3 w x 8.0 d cm
Cat Raisonné: Eagle(1994),p54
Purchased 1961
Accession No: NGA 61.15


  • Arthur Streeton achieved considerable success in Australia in the 1890s painting lyrical views of Sydney Harbour and heroic landscapes of the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury River. In 1888, along with Charles Conder, Tom Roberts and other artists, Streeton established a camp at Eaglemont in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, overlooking the Yarra River valley. Together they painted here, aiming for ‘truth to nature’.

    In 1888—the centenary of European settlement in Australia—there was increased public interest in the landscape, history and culture of Australia. Streeton in particular was interested in capturing the intense light, heat, dryness and glare of the Australian summer.

    Streeton painted many images of masculine labour, including The selector’s hut. This image can be read as the story of a man on the ‘road to wealth’—a hardy pioneer who has been busy clearing his lonely patch of land and living in the makeshift hut behind him. The model for the picture was, however, Jack Whelan, the tenant farmer of Eaglemont estate and not a pioneer. Many of Streeton’s viewers, nonetheless, would have seen Whelan as representing a typical selector endeavouring to civilise the bush.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • In 1888, the Australian Centennial of European settlement created an increased public interest in Australian history and fostered a desire to develop a particularly Australian culture. It was generally a nationalist view of the bush created by city dwellers. Streeton did not portray subjects of life on the land with the figure playing a dominant role, as did Frederick McCubbin or Tom Roberts, but he did paint many images of masculine labour, such as the men blasting the tunnel in Fire’s on 1891 and the surveyor in A surveyor’s camp 1896. The selector’s hut (Whelan on the log) is another such picture. As Mary Eagle has pointed out, this painting can be read as telling the story of a man on ‘the road to wealth’, a hardy pioneer who has selected a lonely patch and has been busy clearing the land and making his home in the makeshift hut behind him.1 The summer wind blows up the dust on the ground and stirs the leaves, while magpies whirl in the translucent blue sky.

    That is the story that Streeton tells us in this picture; but the facts behind the making of the image are diffferent. The man who posed for the picture was Jack Whelan, the tenant farmer of the Eaglemont estate, and the environs were not the native bush but the outer suburbs of Melbourne, where the artists had their camp. Moreover, when Streeton painted this picture the speculators, who owned the land and proposed to redevelop it as housing blocks, were far from the road to wealth as they were having difficulties selling the land because of the financial crash of 1889–90.

    Many of Streeton’s viewers, however, would have accepted the fictional message of this image, as suggested by his title, and would have viewed Whelan as representing one of the many selectors who pegged out their own farms in order to ‘civilise’ the bush.

    Anne Gray

    1Mary Eagle, The Oil Paintings of Arthur Streeton in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1994, p.56.

    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