Conder’s Under a southern sun (Timber splitter’s camp) and Streeton’s The selector’s hut form one of several pairs of images that the two artists painted when they worked together for two months during the summer of 1890. Both works are painted in a palette of yellow, blue and pink, portraying a scene with a tall slender eucalypt, a settler and a log, and both convey a bright blue sky and the effect of strong sunlight. Conder decoratively arranged the scene, placing the bushman and log towards the back of the composition, while Streeton built up drama through a strong sense of midday heat and glaring light. Conder used a soft ‘reflected shadow’ in the foreground to create a gentler light and to push back the scene, while Streeton limited his shadows to ‘attached shadows’ to enhance the sense of bright light. Conder gave his image a characteristic touch of humour by portraying the washing on the line. By including the child, Conder made the scene a more domestic homely one than Streeton’s more heroic image.
Conder and Streeton were both motivated by aesthetic principles and interested in combining painting, music and poetry to create a total artistic experience. In April 1890, Conder wrote enthusiastically to his cousin about Walt Whitman’s poem, ‘Song of the Broad-axe’. His discovery of this poem may have inspired him, and Streeton, in their paintings. Under a southern sun (Timber splitter’s camp), however, with the dusty heat haze rising from the horizon, is the more lyrical image of the two. This typical Australian scene of a bush camp is far removed from the decadent interiors which Conder began to paint and draw after he moved to Europe in 1891. It reflects a time of innocence in his life and art.
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