In the late 1850s and 1860s Studley Park in Kew was a popular picnic spot for the people of Melbourne and a site depicted by numerous artists. Studley Park at sunrise is one of Nicholas Chevalier’s few paintings from the early 1860s that depicts a local scene. Arriving in Australia at the end of 1854, the Russian-born artist had experience working in commercial lithography and spent his first six years in Australia as a cartoonist for the Melbourne Punch. From the early 1860s Chevalier travelled throughout south-east Australia and New Zealand in search of dramatic mountain ranges and seascapes for his subject matter.
In Studley Park at sunriseChevalier shows the Yarra River flanked by tall trees and open bushland stretching through the composition. He was interested in conveying the awe-inspiring beauty of the landscape and the atmospheric effects of nature, such as the morning light and the glistening surface of the water. Choosing to paint the scene at sunrise gave Chevalier an opportunity to explore these artistic concerns and to depict the activity on the river.1 A group of children are shown gathered on the river bank; a young boy skimming rocks across the glassy water’s surface. Hodgson’s Punt is also depicted crossing the river. This punt connected the suburbs of Collingwood and Kew. John Hodgson was a Melbourne public servant whose 1860 house gave its name to Studley Park.2
1 The work has a ‘companion painting’ in The survey paddock at sunset 1861. This work is held in the National Collection.
2 Tim Bonyhady, Australian colonial paintings in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1986, p. 36.