Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland 1848 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1916

  • Australia from 1878

The bath, Healesville. [The bathers] c.1895 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper etching, printed in black ink with plate-tone, from one plate Support: cream laid paper
Edition State: published state
Impression: undesignated impression
Edition: edition unknown

Primary Insc: Signed lower left below plate-mark in black pencil, 'J Mather.'. Inscribed lower left below plate-mark in black pencil, 'The bath, Healesville.'.
Dimensions: plate-mark 13.3 h x 9.6 w cm sheet 23.9 h x 15.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of D M Desouker 1961
Accession No: NGA 61.36
Subject: Australia, Art style: Painter-etchers 1860s-1938
  • With the artist until his death in 1916.
  • Collection of D. M. Desouker, England, by descent.
  • Gift to the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board (C.A.A.B.), from D. M. Desouker, England, August 1961.
  • Although etchings were occasionally produced by Australian artists, they were not regularly exhibited until the 1880s. In England the etching revival, or painter–etchers movement, was well known through art magazines, but it was the French tradition relayed by American artists that was most influential. The tradition of the Barbizon school where people were depicted as having a relaxed understanding of their relationship with the countryside was apt for Australia in the 1890s.

    The inhospitable Australian bush had become a friendly place, a park-like setting where weekend visitors might spend the afternoon walking bush tracks, painting and perhaps bathing naked in the rejuvenating waters of a clear running stream. The bucolic etching The bath, Healesville is of a popular ‘Bathing place on the Watts River’.

    Mather was one of the many artists who set up camp on the fringe of urban settlement. He frequently visited Coranderrk, near Healsville north east of Melbourne, an area known for hop growing, the hop kilns being picturesque additions to the semi-rural landscape. It was also an Aboriginal reserve, the mission houses and cultivated gardens were seen at the time as being further symbols of the ‘taming of nature’. As well as images such as The bath, Healesville, Mather also etched portraits of the Aboriginal people in the settlement.

    Melbourne had a separate tradition in etching. John Mather, who learned etching in Scotland, captured the carefree mood of one of the many artists’ camps in The bath, Healesville where the life of the Bohemian artist is equated with an Arcadia, with natural pleasure and the untamed Australian bush.

    Roger Butler

    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