Sullied Sublime: Art History and Identity in the Post Internet Era

  • Abstract:

    My research interrogates the artist’s role in the reportage of history and the impact this has on cultural identity. It too considers how historical artworks are represented in our Post Internet era. This paper focuses on two migrant, European painters who influenced the perception of a cultural identity in the newly colonised Australia between 1850 and 1890: Swiss-born, Abram-Louis Buvelot (1814-1886) and Austrian, Eugene von Gerard (1811-1901). Both have been posthumously honoured as fathers of the Australian landscape and, conversely, criticised for their misrepresentation of Australian history. The paintings of Von Gerard and Buvelot make a departure from the first colonial portrayals of the Australian pastoral which were mainly scientific illustrations. The period of landscape painting that followed featured a Eurocentric gaze that resembled more a Claude Lorraine than the local environment. Buvelot and von Gerard however, approached the landscape with an unprecedented naturalism and ambience. To those at home in Europe, this new Australian landscape would tell the story of a bushy Shangri La; a romantic narrative, indeed. And yet, these images of majestic mountains and harmonious farmland belie Australia’s wretched past – as a penal colony, the genocide of indigenous peoples, its harsh climate and burgeoning, unmanageable population. Such is the prevailing critique of these two fathers of Australian landscape. One may well question the artist as the arbiter of history and identity. Is identity, after all, synchronic or are its conditions more mutable? Buvelot and von Gerard’s paintings present a version of events. I access their artworks online, which likewise, presents multiples – variations on each “original”. From the fractured space of the Internet, I source, appropriate, further distort and misquote the contended narratives painted by these two artists. My paintings, oil on linen, represent even further slippage from any claim that the artist may have on history or identity.