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Reflections

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A.E. Macdonald, Early Canberra 1913
oil on canvas
139 x 260 cm [framed]
Acquired 1997

A E MACDONALD
active early 20th century

In the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette
No. 80, Saturday 21 December 1912, a notice
was published issued from the Prime Minister’s Department on Thursday 19 December.
The notice was an invitation from the Historic Memorials Committee (a body established by
the Executive Council in 1911 to advise in
reference to the expenditure for Historic Memorials of Representative Men) to Australian artists resident in the various States of the Commonwealth to submit paintings illustrative of the site upon which it is proposed to erect the Federal Capital of the Commonwealth.

The competition attracted ten submissions
among which was the present painting. Little is known about the artist. We know that he lived
in Wahroonga in Sydney at the time of the competition and that he used the nom de plume Molonglo when he submitted his work on
25 June 1913.

 

 

The idea of a competition was a manifestation of Australia’s new nationalism, exemplified in art by the landscapes of painters such as Arthur Streeton and Hans Heysen. Both of these artists offered views of Australia which captured the national consciousness and presented an optimistic and heroic Australia exemplified
by its landscape.

The choice of landscape as the theme for this important competition underscores the preceding and foreshadows the landscape
as symbolic of Australian identity.

The 21 December notice not only asked for a specific site to be painted but also stated that the subject will necessitate a painting of a panoramic nature and must be correct in regard to the geological features of the landscape in every respect. Midday effect is desired in preference to evening or scenic effects. The notion of capturing the view when it is at its most luminous is a reference both to Australia’s unique light and
to the symbolic use of that light to point to the bountiful future open to the newly federated country.

Early Canberra shows the site of Canberra looking from the present-day suburb of Ainslie, with St John’s Church in the middle ground.

Although it did not win the competition (the winner was William Lister Lister whose work and that of the runner-up Penleigh Boyd are displayed in Parliament House, Canberra), Macdonald’s painting (and a companion piece by Theodore Brooke Hansen, also in the CMAG Collection) exemplified the hopes of our new nation for its soon-to-be- built capital city.


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