The flood in the Darling 1890' is one of several ambitious canvases painted by WC Piguenit in response to the devastating rains that inundated the western region of New South Wales in 1890. It reflects his respect for the terrifying yet sublime power of nature so admired by exponents of 19th-century German Romantic painting. The largest flood recorded since 1864, waters broke the embankment and submerged the remote township of Bourke – an event Piguenit witnessed first hand. However, rather than depicting the destroyed buildings and railway lines, and the loss of livestock and human life, he has rendered the calm after the deluge. A vast expanse of sky, land and water is rendered as a symphonic celebration, with billowing purplish-hued clouds reflected across a vast glistening expanse reaching towards the viewer – ibises the only living creatures populating the tranquil landscape.
Son of a convict transported to Van Diemen's Land in 1830, William Charles Piguenit was raised and schooled in Hobart, and spent 22 years working in the Department of Lands survey office as a draughtsman. Although he received rudimentary instruction in painting, he was largely self taught. After leaving the survey office in 1872, he began making sketching and photography trips to remote and spectacular regions in the Tasmanian wilderness. He achieved early success through public patronage when he exhibited his works in the annual Sydney and Melbourne academy shows.
His striking 'Mount Olympus, Lake St Clair, Tasmania, source of the Derwent' was the first work by an Australian-born artist to be acquired, in 1875, by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. That same year, Piguenit joined an artists and photographers camp in the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains. By 1880 Piguenit had settled in Sydney with his family. Continued patronage by the Gallery enabled him to tour New South Wales and Tasmania, providing fresh inspiration for his grand, sweeping landscapes and measured studies of the natural environment.
Piguenit continued his successful career well into the 20th century, including the completion, in 1903, of the commanding 'Mount Kosciusko' which was commissioned by the trustees of this Gallery; the majestic depiction of the continent’s highest peak marking the enormity of the Federation of Australia in 1901.