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Guerard, Johann Joseph Eugen von (1812–1901)

by Marjorie J. Tipping

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Johann Joseph Eugen von Guerard (1812-1901), by John Botterill

Johann Joseph Eugen von Guerard (1812-1901), by John Botterill

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H4142

Johann Joseph Eugen von Guerard (1812-1901), artist, was born in Vienna, son of Bernhard von Guerard and his wife Josepha Schulz von Leichtenthall. His father was a court painter to Francis I of Austria and his mother the daughter of a field marshal in Vienna. Guerard early showed artistic talent and his father took him in 1826 to Italy where he studied old masters before settling at Naples in 1832. For six years he painted landscapes in southern Italy and Sicily. He then moved to Dusseldorf where he studied under Johann Wilhelm Schirmer at the academy and exhibited regularly at Leipzig and Berlin. He left Dusseldorf in 1848 possibly for the Californian goldfields. In 1852 he sailed from England in the Windermere, lured by the gold rush. He arrived at Geelong on 24 December and two weeks later left for Ballarat. His diary describes his luckless year on the goldfields, but he made many pencil sketches, now in the State Library of Victoria. At St Francis's Church, Melbourne, on 15 July 1854 he married Louise Arnz of Dusseldorf.

For sixteen years Guerard travelled and sketched in the wilds of Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand, sometimes in company with such scientific expeditions as those led by Alfred Howitt in 1860 and Georg von Neumayer in 1862. Later he transferred many of his pen and pencil sketches to canvases commissioned by wealthy patrons. Influenced by the Austrian Biedermeier school, he painted grandiose mountain landscapes reminiscent of Europe's alpine artists. Archibald Michie presented 'The Valley of the Mitta Mitta' to the Melbourne Art Gallery in 1866 and in 1870 the trustees bought for £157 10s. his 'Mount Kosciusko, seen from the Mount Hope Ranges, Victoria'. Guerard occupied studios in Collins and Bourke Streets in the 1850s, and then lived for nearly twenty years in Gipps Street, East Melbourne. In Melbourne his first years had been difficult and in 1855 he tried to sell many paintings by lottery. The Argus, 1 February, reported his failure: 'While Tom Barry can leer and sneeze on our public stage at £100 per week a first rate painter like M. Guerard has been driven from the shores of Victoria from inability to procure bread by the exercise of his genius'. In October 1856 he was an active founder of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts, and in January 1857 its only exhibition included his views of Mount Abrupt and Hobart Town. The News Letter of Australasia, January 1858, criticized his 'very peculiar' style and in February sourly opposed the purchase of 'M. Guerard's fine picture of Fern Tree Gully … for … the Queen'. Although few locals would subscribe for the painting, Queen Isabella of Naples later bought two of his early works and many others went to Dusseldorf, America, Natal, England and exhibitions in Paris, London and Vienna.

Guerard's elaborate album of tinted lithographs, Australian Landscapes (Melbourne, 1867), was based on the Western District views which he exhibited in 1858 and which Governor (Sir) Henry Barkly so admired that he commissioned a similar series of pen and ink drawings. Much of his work was engraved for periodicals and he illustrated Samuel Bird's On Australasian Climates (Melbourne, 1863).

At its exhibition of 1865 the Royal Academy accepted Guerard's 'Fall of the Wetterbord Creek, with the romantic view of the Jamisson's Valley, in the Blue Mountains between Sydney and Bathurst'. In 1870 he became a charter member of the Victorian Academy of Artists; he had six pictures in its first exhibition and many others later. In 1873 paintings were sent to London for the International Exhibition and in 1876 he was one of the first Australian artists represented in the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia. In 1870 he was appointed first master of painting at the National School of Art, Melbourne, and curator of the National Gallery of Victoria. Among his earliest students were Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, Rupert Bunny, E. Wake Cook and Bertram Mackennal, but he was a better painter than teacher and left little mark on them; he resigned because of ill health in 1881.

Described by William Strutt as 'delightful', Guerard must have had great physical endurance to undertake his long and arduous journeys. He was a member of the 'charmed circle' of writers and artists and bon viveurs who gathered around James Smith, Nicholas Chevalier, Richard Horne and others, and was active in the Royal Society of Victoria, serving on its council in 1866-67. He was fluent in English, French, Italian and German, but signed his name in the German form. In 1870 the emperor of Austria had awarded him the cross of the order of Franz Joseph.

In 1882 Guerard returned to Europe where his wife died in London on 12 January 1891. When the Australian banks crashed in 1893 he lost all his investments and apparently lived in poverty until he died aged 89 in Chelsea on 17 April 1901. He was survived by his only child, Victoria, who was born on 4 September 1857 in Melbourne and married Reginald Blunt at Dusseldorf on 20 December 1885.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts, vol 2 (Lond, 1905)
  • E. LaT. Armstrong, The Book of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria: 1856-1906 (Melb, 1906)
  • U. Thieme and F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler (Leipzig, 1912)
  • B. Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1960 (Melb, 1962)
  • B. Finemore, ‘Selected recent accessions in Australian painting’, Art Bulletin of Victoria, 1967-68
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Oct 1855, 29 Dec 1857, 5 Aug 1858
  • Illustrated Australian News, 27 July 1867
  • Guerard diary (State Library of New South Wales)
  • W. Strutt papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • H. G. Turner papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Marjorie J. Tipping, 'Guerard, Johann Joseph Eugen von (1812–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/guerard-johann-joseph-eugen-von-3677/text5745, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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