This oil painting is representative of many done by self-taught artist Alfred William Eustace (1820-1907)
A.W. Eustace, an Australian artist and taxidermist, was born in Berkshire, England, where he was an assistant gamekeeper to the Earl of Craven at Ashdown Park. He migrated to Australia with his wife and children in 1851 and purchased the Ullina and Eldorado Runs on the Black Dog Creek at Chiltern, which was in excess of 50,000 acres of grazing land.
A.W. Eustace was employed as a shepherd by Jason Withers and while tending his flocks in the solitude of the bush, Eustace turned his attention to painting and music to while away the long and weary hours. He endeavoured to capture the spirit of the bush painting on board, canvas or tin plate, but as these materials were not always readily available he then started painting on large round eucalyptus leaves from the White and Red Box trees that grew around about him.
About 1856 he painted a small picture of the famous Woolshed goldrush and during the next few years became well known in North-East Victoria. John Sadlier, a police officer stationed at Beechworth said that Eustace painted 'some really exquisite scenes. He was of an easy-going dreamy temperament, a student of nature only, despising the works of men. Unfortunately his drawings were on eucalyptus leaves, the largest and roundest he could find and not on canvas, and no doubt have all perished long ago.'
In 1876 the Melbourne Age newspaper reported, 'Eustace’s celebrated paintings on gum leaves are again attracting attention,…Mr Eustace is an elegant artist…he seems without effort to catch the colour and spirit of Australian scenery…' In 1864 A.W. Eustace held an Art Union in Albury, and again in 1884 in Ballarat. He exhibited at the Victorian Academy of Arts in 1877 and also held an exhibition of gum leaf paintings at Stevens Gallery, Melbourne in 1893.
By 1896 he was receiving orders from heads of states in Europe, with his works acknowledged by Queen Victoria, Emperor Frederich of Germany and the Czar of Russia, as well as the Governors of New South Wales and Victoria. His paintings reflected his ability to paint the sky in his realistic style which is still noted by art critics of the day.
A.W. Eustace was also a skilful taxidermist. The collection of birds and animals that can be seen at the Beechworth Museum are examples of his taxidermy skill. When not doing his work, painting or taxidermy, he regularly contributed letters and verse to the Chiltern newspaper, The Federal Standard. A book of verse in his hand writing was presented to The Athenaeum Trust by the Boadle family. In the 1870’s he became interested in spiritualism often being involved in lively debate at lectures and séances.
Alfred William Eustace died in 1907 and is buried in the Chiltern New Cemetery with his wife Sarah and one of his daughters, Elizabeth.
Oil painting on Academy Board in a modern timber frame