St Petersburg, Russia 1828 – London, England 1902
Mount Arapiles and the Mitre Rock
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
Nicholas Chevalier first travelled to Mount Arapiles, 30 kilometres west of Horsham in the Wimmera district of north-western Victoria, in June 1862. He accompanied Georg Neumayer on a scientific expedition, a magnetic survey of the colony. Such collaborations were common at the time, when art was frequently seen to be a handmaiden of science, rather than its opposite. The commanding presence of Mount Arapiles was first documented by a European in 1836, by the explorer Major Thomas Mitchell. By the time Chevalier visited the area, it and the nearby monolith the Mitre Rock were part of the station owned by Alexander Wilson. He or his brother Charles commissioned the painting, which was exhibited in Melbourne in 1864, to high praise.
In Mount Arapiles and the Mitre Rock Chevalier portrayed the might of nature compared with the efforts of humans. This was an important theme of the sublime, the aesthetic doctrine concerned with the awe-inspiring, indifferent and immeasurable vastness of creation, made manifest in the paintings of J.M.W. Turner. The new animals, the cattle, are small in the foreground while the surveying party’s camp is all but obscured under the trees. Neumayer wrote that on 5 May 1862 the party ‘enjoyed a magnificent view of the setting sun’,1 which Chevalier used to contrast the enduring granite of the rocks with the evanescent light effects of the sky.
Nicholas Chevalier came to Australia in 1854 during the gold rush, part of the influx of cultivated immigrants from Europe. Born in Russia, with a Swiss father, he studied art in Lausanne, Munich, Italy and worked in London as a lithographer. This was useful experience for his Australian career as a newspaper and magazine illustrator. His ambitions as a painter remained, however, and in the 1860s he produced some major paintings of scenic landscapes in Victoria.
1 Georg Neumayer, Results of the Magnetic Survey of the Colony of Victoria Executed During the Years 1858-1864, Mannheim:Schneider 1869, p.54
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