Louis Buvelot / Switzerland/Australia 1814–88 / The Wannon Falls 1868 / Oil on canvas / 76 x 102cm / Purchased 1973 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Louis Buvelot
The Wannon Falls 1868

Not Currently on Display

The Wannon Falls 1868 depicts a pastoral landscape with evidence of human habitation in the form of a small farmhouse, and sheep and cattle on the surrounding ridges. Located around 350 kilometres west of Melbourne, the falls were first explored by European settlers in 1836. By the 1860s, the falls had become a favoured destination for tourists from Melbourne. Scenic, yet potentially dangerous, waterfalls provided the quintessential tourist experience.

Louis Buvelot’s painting emphasises the day-to-day aspects of life, along with the colours, forms and qualities of light particular to the area. The work also reflects Buvelot’s changing attitude — he depicts the landscape in a naturalistic rather than a romantic manner, concentrating on those aspects of the landscape that he found distinctively Australian.

Born in Switzerland in 1814, Louis Buvelot studied art in Lausanne and Paris. After some years spent between Switzerland, Brazil and the East Indies, he migrated to Melbourne in 1865, aged 51.

On his arrival in Melbourne, Buvelot established a photographic studio in Bourke Street East with his companion, Caroline Julie Beguin. He abandoned the business after a year to focus on painting and proceeded to make his name as one of Australia’s foremost landscape artists.

Many artists in Australia in the mid nineteenth century were grappling with how best to portray local conditions. Buvelot’s work and his advocacy for the development of a uniquely Australian aesthetic influenced a younger generation of artists, including Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin who went on to form the Heidelberg School.

Discussion Questions

1. What is the first thing you see in the painting? Do you think the artist has composed the painting like this for a reason?

2. Research other artists who work using the plein air process. Consider how this is different to working from a photograph in a studio.


1. Consider how Buvelot has used light to draw us to the waterfall. Go for a walk around the school observing how light highlights certain spaces. Choose a location at school and take photographs at different times during the day. How do variations in natural light change the look and feel of the location?

2. Create an artwork that highlights a moving body of water such as a river, stream or ocean. Ensure the composition includes other features of the surrounding geographical location and signs of human life.