James Waltham Curtis (1839-1901) was an eminent Australian colonial artist whose work lives on as a tribute to Australia’s early days of European settlement. His approach is of technical, poetic and historical interest, emphasizing man’s battle with a primeval landscape and nature, his picturesque landscapes being fine examples of the late 19th century period which preceded the Heidelberg School. Curtis was an English painter and illustrator who it is believed, came to Australia during the Gold Rush. Curtis’ work plays an important part in the preservation of Australian history and is an excellent reminder of how life was in the latter part of the 19th century.
The Three Sisters
The Sisters were formed by erosion. The soft sandstone of the Blue Mountains is easily eroded over time by wind, rain and rivers and the cliffs surrounding the Jamison Valley are being slowly broken up. Aboriginal legends The commonly told legend of the Three Sisters is that three sisters (Meehni', 'Wimlah' and Gunnedoo') lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe). They fell in love with three men from a neighbouring tribe (the Nepean tribe), but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters. A major tribal battle ensued, and the sisters were turned to stone by an elder to protect them, but he was killed in the fighting and no one else could turn them back. This legend is claimed to be an Indigenous Australian Dreamtime legend. However, Dr Martin Thomas, in his work "The artificial horizon: imagining the Blue Mountains", clearly shows that the "aboriginal" legend is a fabrication created by a non-Aboriginal local Katoomba, Mel Ward, presumably to add interest to a local landmark. The story originated in the late 1920s or early 1930s and is unknown prior to that date. The Aboriginal traditional owners, the Gundungurra, have a legend that includes the Sisters rock formation. They are currently[when?] developing a website which will include these traditional stories.
Charles Henry Harmon (1859-1936) was born on December 23, 1859 in Mansfield, Ohio. He moved to San Jose, California with his family in 1874 and at an early age was apprenticed to local portrait painter Louis Lussier. He later spent one year working in a local photography studio re-touching negatives. His youth was spent visiting the art galleries of San Francisco and, with no formal training, he began sketching and painting in 1883 in the beautiful Santa Clara Valley. He painted many landscapes of that area and made trips to the remotest parts of the Sierra and the Monterey Peninsula where he painted many coastal scenes. He began exhibiting in San Jose in the 1880s. By the turn of the century, his works were handled exclusively by Gump's and he was recognized as one of California's foremost painters. In 1905 he established a studio in Denver and for seven years concentrated on the rugged landscape of the Rocky Mountains. While there, the Santa Fe, Western Pacific, and Colorado Midland railroads commissioned him to paint scenes along their routes. After his time in Colorado, he returned to San Jose where he remained for the rest of his life. Harmon died there on October 14, 1936 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. Exhibited: Mark Hopkins Institute, 1897-98; Gump's (San Francisco), 1899; Berkeley League of Fine Arts; California Artists, Golden Gate Park Museum, 1915; Stanford Art Gallery, 1923; Rosicrucian Art Gallery, 1949 and Triton Museum, 1971 (retrospectives). Works held: San Jose Civic Auditorium; Clarke Museum (Eureka); California State Library; Denver Public Library; Santa Fe Railway. Source : Edan Hughes Artists in California.
Born in New York City, Ralph Blakelock earned a reputation for nocturnal, misty scenes, especially moonlit landscapes, large oak trees, and Indian encampments. He also did a small number of floral still lifes. His work has a mysterious quality, which some associated with the type of music he habitually played on the piano during interludes from his painting. Towards the end of his career, his paintings became increasingly haunting, a reflection of his insanity brought on by horrible poverty and his inability to support his family of nine children. He was both a late exponent of the Hudson River School of painting and also of the American West. He also foreshadowed the romantic, visionary, and modern tendencies that marked the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries. This romanticism, especially of escapism, was increasingly pronounced towards the end of his career. Blakelock was the son of a prominent English-born, New York physician, and first took medical studies, but his love of music and art led him away from medicine. He graduated from the College of the City of New York, studied briefly at Cooper Union, and at the Free Academy of the City of New York. In 1867, he first exhibited at the National Academy of Design to which he was ultimately elected, after he was incarcerated for insanity. During this time, he painted a series of New York City scenes, primarily of un-glamorous areas such as his work, Shanties, New York City. He also painted in Hudson River Style and was in locations that included the Adirondacks and the White Mountain. It is thought he learned this style during his brief and only art education at Cooper Union. Primarily self taught, he declined his father's offer to pay for more extensive art schooling, and instead, at age 22, embarked on a three-year (1869-1972) horseback tour of the West. He lived with plains Indians, painting pictures of their villages, and traveled and painted through the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas. In San Francisco and Oakland, he painted city scenes, the tree landscapes, and coastal views, and then he headed south to Mexico. These western paintings were also in the Hudson River style, although they were rough and more painterly. Returning to New York, he developed what became his signature expression: quiet, moody, nocturnal scenes accented with bright colors depicting light, and trees silhouetted against the sky. He had a labor-intensive technique, which was building up of multi layers of thick paint, scraping some away, and "adding more to build a complex tonality". (Zellman 420) It is said that his real travels were introspective from which he created these moody, dark landscapes, and they did not satisfy the current public taste for uplifting Hudson River style painting. Ahead of popular taste, his work was overlooked, and crooked dealers took advantage of him. With the desperation of trying to support his huge family, he sold his work cheaply. Ironically, many years after his death, his work became so valuable that forgers, including a dealer who changed the signature on canvases of Blakelock's artist daughter, Marian, to that of her father, sold paintings at very high prices by using his signature. Norman Geske, Director Emeritus of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Lincoln, Nebraska, became the authenticator of Blakelock's work, and has seen many, many illegitimate so-called Blakelocks. Under Geske's direction, a catalogue raisonne has been published that classifies paintings with Blakelock's signature into three categories according to their degree of perceived authenticity. In 1899, the artist had a mental breakdown and spent the last twenty years of his life in an asylum in Middleton, New York. He died on August 9, 1919. However, his work had already begun increasing in value, and by 1916 was bringing as high as $20,000. Of Blakelock's career, Norman Geske wrote: "Considered in the context of American landscape painting in the second half of the nineteenth century, Ralph Albert Blakelock can be seen first as a late exponent of the Hudson River School, second as a highly personal contributor to the painting of the American West, and third and most important, as part of the romantic, visionary, and modern tendencies that marked the turn of the century."(16)