A Noble Vocation: The Life and Legacy of Artist Eugene von Guerard (1811-1901)

Date

2023

Authors

Manton, Karen

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Abstract

The peripatetic life of nineteenth-century landscape artist Eugene von Guerard spanned both hemispheres of the globe and most of the nineteenth century. The facts that scaffold his life, initially recounted by the artist himself, are frequently reiterated in commentaries about his art, but the man behind the public persona has been largely ignored. There has been no in-depth investigation of why the forty-year-old artist migrated to colonial Victoria, the current assumption being that he came to dig for gold, or why, after twenty-nine years, he decided to return permanently to Europe. This thesis examines the background to both issues. It explores the trajectory of von Guerard's life within the multiple socio-cultural contexts in which it was embedded, the power structures and underlying dynamics within them, and their impact on individual lives. It investigates how such historically situated fields determined the organizing principles of von Guerard's life, defined his possibilities, and influenced his legacy. The thesis is a biographical study, not an art history or a treatise on von Guerard's art, though elements of both are included. The approach is interdisciplinary. It draws on Geertz's interpretive methodology and Bourdieu's concept of the habitus to determine the factors that shaped the deepest disposition of the man, his cosmopolitan sensibilities, and their manifestation as a mediating principle throughout his life. Micro-historian Carlo Ginzburg's methodology of following clues and identifying lacunae provided an evidential pathway through extant letters, archived papers, and secondary source material, to reveal elements of the historical and art historical discourse pertaining to von Guerard that may be contested. Through the study of von Guerard's life, this thesis addresses the broader issues associated with nineteenth-century European migration, the dissonance between habitus and habitat in Melbourne's settler society, and the culture of disenfranchisement and "othering" inherent in the British colonial enterprise. A consideration of the restoration of von Guerard's reputation as Australia's leading colonial landscape artist and his reinstatement in the canon of Australian art after nearly a century of oblivion, highlights the political underpinning of how we conceptualize and shape our narratives of nationhood, identity, and belonging.

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Thesis (PhD)

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DOI

10.25911/6V03-Y744

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