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This painting is a rare and early example of the style known generally as Symbolism which was popular in France in the 1880s. With its emphasis on sensuality, spirituality and emotions, Symbolism as a movement thrived in opposition to the prevailing academic and realist modes of representation. The timing of its initial arrival in Australia, however, coincided with the dominance of a landscape school of painting, primarily that centred in and around Melbourne, whose importance derived from its connection with a new sense of national identity.
Born into a conventional middle-class Portuguese family, Arthur Loureiro studied in Lisbon, Madrid, Florence, Rome and Paris. Study for spirit of the new moon was inspired by a Portuguese poem, ‘Os Lusiadas’ (The Lusiads) by Luis vaz de Camoes published in 1572. In this epic poem, the goddess Venus comes to the aid of Portuguese sailors in battles with mortal enemies and with forces of nature powered by malevolent gods. Here she confounds Adamastor, Loureiro’s fierce old man, spirit of the Cape of Storms (the Cape of Good Hope) who, as described by Camoes, appears to be the great navigator Vasco da Gama and foretells disaster to all those attempting the onward voyage to India.1 Loureiro, incidentally, named his only son Vasco.
1 Clark, Jane. ‘International classicists in the “Australian Impressionist” era’, in Brought to Light: Australian Art 1850-1965. Seear, Lynne & Ewington, Julie (eds), QAG, Brisbane, 1998, p.302.