Ludwig BECKER, Sturm-Höhle, Tasman's Peninsula, Van Diemen's Land (Blow hole) Enlarge 1 /1


Darmstadt, Germany 1808 – Bulloo, Queensland, Australia 1861

  • Australia from 1851

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 Place made: Tasmania, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, watercolours, painting in watercolour with highlights in gum arabic Support: off-white wove paper
Manufacturer's Mark: no manufacturer's mark.

Primary Insc: Signbed, dated and titled lower left in pen and black ink, 'Sturm-Höhle / Tasman's Peninsula / V.D. Land / 20 Dec. . 1851 / L. Becker'.
Secondary Insc: no inscriptions.
Tertiary Insc: no inscriptions.
Dimensions: image 17.2 h x 24.7 w cm sheet 17.2 h x 24.7 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1989
Accession No: NGA 89.515
  • This work was first exhibited in the Victorian Exhibition of Art , Melbourne, December 1956, cat. no.3, then at the Geelong Mechanics' Institute, March 1857, cat. no. 116.
  • Family collection, Geelong by descent.
  • With Deutscher Fine Art, exhibited in, 'Nineteenth and twentieth century Australian painting', Melbourne: The Block Gallery and Deutscher Galleries, 28 September - 5 November 1978, cat. no.5.
  • Private collection.
  • With Hedley Earl, Geelong.
  • Purchased by David Hales, from Hedley Earle, Geelong, 1985.
  • Purchased by the Australian National Gallery, from Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne, May 1989;

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