On Display: QAG, Gallery 11
Completed 13 years after Godfrey Rivers arrived in Australia, Under the jacaranda 1903 offers a view of early twentieth-century life in Brisbane, with the subject reflecting a popular genteel European tradition of ‘taking tea’ in an attractive outdoor setting.
The work depicts the artist and his wife, Selina, under the shade of a jacaranda tree in full bloom in the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. Rivers captures the majestic form of the tree, emphasising its distinctive colour with the contrasting green vegetation and the sparkling accent of the red umbrella. To the right of the foreground figures, the stone used as edging and in rockeries throughout the gardens can be seen. It is most likely composed of gneiss, a rock used as ballast on ships, and coral dredged from the nearby Brisbane River.
The jacaranda, planted by the Gardens’ Superintendent in 1864, is almost certainly the first one grown in Australia. Seeds of the native South American species were brought to Brisbane that same year, and by 1875 about 50 000 seeds and cuttings had been distributed in Queensland. Many of the jacarandas now growing in Brisbane suburbs are the progeny of this first tree.
Richard Godfrey Rivers was born in 1858 in Plymouth, England. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and exhibited at the Royal Academy before moving to Australia in 1889. Along with many painters of the Australian landscape who studied in Europe, Rivers needed to adapt his colour palette for Australia’s intense sunlight.
Rivers was Art Master at the Brisbane Technical College from 1891 to 1915, and during this time he made the adjoining City Botanic Gardens a popular outdoor painting and sketching location. His students included Bessie Gibson, Vida Lahey and Lloyd Rees.
An active member of the Queensland Art Society, he exhibited annually between 1891 and 1916, and was president of the society several times. A tireless advocate for the establishment of a public art gallery in Queensland, he was successful in persuading Premier Hugh Nelson to establish such an institution. The Queensland National Art Gallery opened in 1895, with Rivers serving as honorary secretary to the trustees. Shortly afterwards, he was appointed honorary curator. In 1915, Rivers moved to Tasmania where he died in 1925.
1. Look closely at the painting. How has the artist used colour and size to highlight certain objects? Can you explain how this painting might tell us a story from a long time ago?
2. Under the jacaranda captures a moment in time as viewed by a distant observer. How has Rivers positioned his viewers with a nostalgic perspective and in doing so, how has he established a sense of romanticism in the work?
1. Imagine you are a bird hovering above the scene in this painting. You are looking down on the tree and the people. Talk about what you can see. Draw the scene and add colour to your drawing. Compare yours and other students’ viewpoints.
2. Godfrey Rivers has used a triadic colour scheme to emphasise key features in his painting. The use of colours blue-violet, red-orange and green, draws attention to his wife Selina and the all-important jacaranda foliage. Find examples of similar colours in the landscape and document these in your journal through photography and drawing.