Piguenit – artist extraordinaire in southern Tasmania

The 19th century lady who wrote her story of a walk from Trial Harbour to Ouse (refer https://walkingthederwent.com/2015/06/20/a-story-of-a-walk-in-19th-century-tasmania/) mentioned Tasmanian artist William Charles Piguenit in her record of the events.

‘… had our first near view of the various peaks of the West Coast Range. From here we kept on rising till we reached the Government hut, 1,500 ft above and 15 miles from Strahan.  Here the first of a series of magnificent views met our eyes; beneath us lay a deep valley, forest clad for miles, and beyond, stretching as far away as the eye could reach, lay the range, its rugged peaks standing out sharply against the sky.

How it makes one long for the brush of a ready painter, to be able to place on canvas at least something to keep one’s mind fresh with the remembrance of all this beauty. Mr Piguenit is, I believe, the only artist who has devoted his time and labour to this district, and the results of his work are to be seen in the pictures now hanging in the Art Gallery of the Hobart Museum, and certainly the next best thing to visiting the West Coast is to see Mr Piguenit’s pictures of different scenes in that region.’

The collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) contains a substantial number of his oil paintings.  Years ago I was employed by TMAG as an attendant and stationed in the upstairs ‘colonial’ gallery where the 19th century paintings were hung adjacent to marble sculptures and rare examples of early Tasmanian wood furniture. Back then I was a student of art history, and the establishment deemed me to be the expert amongst their collection of gallery attendants. They felt sure I would be able to help any visitor with enquiries about the collection on show.  One whole end of that 19th century gallery space was devoted to the work of Piguenit.  With much time on my hands to study each work of art, I fell in love with his dramatic descriptions of remote Tasmanian wilderness. But most surprising was that many of the very large oils, surrounded by beautiful carved frames, were compositions of the landscape in many gradations of grey when Piguenit had only chosen to use black and white paint.  Gloriously glossy. Unexpectedly stunning.  Tasmania’s inland environment had never been seen by most people (and still hasn’t been).

It was a surprise to me that I can only find online reproductions of these great paintings in a TMAG published catalogue raisonne of the work of William Charles Piguenit (http://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/73142/piguenit_catalogue.pdf). Unfortunately, the document is incomplete and the images are very poorly reproduced – this booklet does the artist a great disservice. When faced with the paintings, the oils are truly majestic and have a similar power to mountainous work by artists such as Eugen von Guerard, Casper David Friedrich, and those from the Hudson River School such as Frederick Edwin Church.

The collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney holds some of his work including the following paintings (in coloured oils) which show aspects of Lake St Clair (the source of the Derwent River and the goal of my walk).

Mount Ida, Lake St Clair, Tasmania c1881

AGNSW Mount Ida Lake St Clair Tasmaniac1881

Mount Olympus, Lake St Clair, Tasmania, the source of the Derwent 1875

AGNSW Mount Olympus Lake St Clair Tasmania the source of the Derwent 1875

7 thoughts on “Piguenit – artist extraordinaire in southern Tasmania

    1. Tasmanian traveller Post author

      What a gap in your local visiting this represents!!!! That’s the lovely thing about travel, however much you see there is always more. After discovering the paucity of quality reproductions online of Piguenit’s paintings, I am inclined to contact TMAG and suggest they do something about it, based on the argument that better imagery might draw more people to Hobart.

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  1. Chantale

    In the old schools, painting in grey tones was a way for painting students of learning to see tonal values. It is also used as an under layer to apply colour over…. Xxx

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  2. mamamunho

    I had never heard of Piguenit – this could be my ignorance or the fact that he is not widely known over here in the UK. Anyway, I loved the paintings – thank you for educating me!

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    1. Tasmanian traveller Post author

      It doesn’t seem that any sort of significant exposure of this artist has occurred yet I believe his work would be enormously appealing to many people. I have received lots of feedback from my posting via normal emails and my LinkedIn account so I am feeling that I should tackle the local TMAG and prompt them to, at least, get all their collection of Piguenit’s pictures online. The National Gallery of Victoria owns three of his works and these are reproduced online at https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/?s=Piguenit. Still nothing prepares you for the freshness of the originals – and they are large paintings as well, so their power is very striking.

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