Darmstadt, Germany 1808 – Bulloo, Queensland, Australia 1861
Sturm-Höhle, Tasman's Peninsula, Van Diemen's Land (Blow hole)
[The blow hole on Tasman peninsula, Van Diemen's Land Blow-hole, Tasman's Peninsula, Van Dieman's Land] 20 December 1851
Materials & Technique: drawings, watercolours, painting in watercolour with highlights in gum arabic Support: off-white wove paper
Manufacturer's Mark: no manufacturer's mark.
Ludwig Becker, a German migrant, experienced life in Australia for only a decade, but his rare works rate highly with those of other artist–explorers, William Blandowski and Eugene von Guérard. He shared with them a unique approach to the Australian environment, inventive though precise in execution, complex in thought and feeling.
Becker’s watercolour of the well-known Tasman Peninsula blow-hole focuses on the improbable shimmering light at the end of the dark rock tunnel. This was a rare use by Becker of artist’s licence as the horizon line could not be seen from the elevated vantage point he adopted in this work.
By placing himself at the centre of the picture, intent on drawing, his cane and portfolio at a safe distance, the artist created an amusing contrast with the two figures rearing away from the splashes from the blow-hole. Eucalyptus tree roots protruding through the bank and the burnt out tree trunk in the upper centre and right-hand show the artist’s experience in perfectly reproducing his botanical subjects.
The pristine condition of the watercolour is unusual and probably due to its benign collection history. It remained privately owned until 1989 when it entered the National Collection.
Becker is better known for the arid inland desert subjects he painted long before these attracted 20th-century artists. The drawings he did in western New South Wales on the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition in 1860–61 were exquisitely detailed. He died on the expedition on 29 April 1861 at Bulloo, north of the Queensland border.
Lyn Conybeare 2002
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