Streeton masterpiece sells for more than $1.8 million

A masterpiece by Australian impressionist Arthur Streeton not seen by the public for 130 years has beaten expectations to sell for more than $1.875 million.

The 1894 oil painting Sunlight at the Camp 1894 went on show in Melbourne earlier in April ahead of an auction in Sydney on Wednesday, when it was expected to fetch up to $1.5 million.

It went under the hammer as part of a broader auction of Australian art by Smith and Singer, formerly Sotheby’s Australia.

Arthur Streeton’s Sunlight at the Camp 1894
Sunlight at the Camp is part of an auction of Australian art by Smith and Singer.

Smith and Singer chairman Geoffrey Smith had billed the painting as a highly significant work in Streeton's career and in the history of Australian art.

Wednesday's auction was joined by people online and in the room, but the successful bid was made over the phone, a spokesman said. 

Streeton was one of Australia's most influential landscape painters and a leading member of the Heidelberg school with fellow artists Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder.

Their work later became known as Australian impressionism, the nation's first distinctive movement in painting.

Arthur Streeton Painting at Little Sirius Cove, Mosman (circa 1892-93)
Streeton painted Sunlight at the Camp when he was in his late 20s and living in Mosman.

Streeton painted Sunlight at the Camp in his late 20s while living frugally in an artist's camp at Sirius Cove alongside Tom Roberts, in the newly established municipality of Mosman on Sydney's north shore.

It was the golden age of Australian impressionism, a time when the most creative visual artists in Australia worked side by side to record the landscape they were immersed in, said Smith, painting directly from nature in a way that would change the course of Australian art.

Streeton's view of Sydney Harbour was painted quickly with impressionistic brushstrokes, in order to record the hues of changing light hitting the rocks and their reflections on the water.

The painting was last exhibited in 1894 and was owned by art collector, the late Ruth Simon, for decades, with most of her collection going to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

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