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Arnold Jarvis 1881-1959, Australian Artist

Arnold Jarvis (1891-1951) signatures
Arnold Jarvis (1881-1951) watercolour
Arnold Jarvis (1881-1951) detail of watercolour ‘Old Gums at Freshwater Creek’, c. 1920

Arnold Jarvis was a prolific artist, specialising in classic Australian vistas with ancient River Redgums, and once described as ‘The other Hans Heyson’. However, he doesn’t even come close to Heyson’s value today, and his story is somewhat neglected. He was born in South Australia, and literally ‘joined the circus’ in his teens, travelling as far as Perth to perform on stage. He had balance & tightrope acts – and a ‘speed painting’ show, where he would produce a painting from a blank canvas ready to hang on the wall in under 3 minutes! This was no doubt a brilliant way to refine his brushwork, as they say practice makes perfect, and he certainly perfected his impressions of ancient river redgums. By 1901, he was no longer a juggler, but a full-time artist.

Arnold Jarvis (1881-1951) watercolour
Arnold Jarvis (1881-1951) large watercolour, English Thatch Cottage & Steamship, c. 1910

This fascinating example of Arnold Jarvis’s work is perhaps unique, having a very classic ‘English Cottage’ combined with his more usual Australian scenery. The positioning of it – actually only half-on the paper to the right – perhaps indicates this is not a simple ‘pretty picture’. Similar artists painted works depicting English Cottages at the same time, and they were very popular in the exhibitions held in Australia in the later 19th & earlier 20th century. Catalogues list traditional painters of ‘English Cottages’ such as Miles Birket Forster hanging alongside the likes of Arnold Jarvis and the other classic Australian artists. The audience flocking to these shows was predominantly English born, or had parents who were, and therefore the nostalgia of these very English scenes was the driving force behind their popularity.

Arnold Jarvis, however, was one of the very Australian- oriented artists, and his immense volume of work is predominantly Australian gumtrees with sweeping vistas of semi-cultivated land. The other small group of Jarvis’s work are the coastal scenes, often with a ship on the horizon.

With this work, Jarvis has shown that yes, he can depict an English Cottage if needed – but while the classic English artists would make their cottage the front-central focus, he has pushed it to the far right. The central portion is a distant view that is familiar to anyone along Victoria’s ‘Surf Coast’, the place where Jarvis spent a lot of time. The open paddock with cows leading to tee-tree scrub and a hint of sand dunes, along with the reddish colour of the distant headland, are typical of the area. The scruffy trees that make up the far left are not at all English in nature, but typical of any nondescript Australian bush scene. The gums he loved to paint so much would never grow in this coastal position, but the foliage shown – along with the dead branches – is typical of something like the Blackwoods growing in the region.

The work is therefore a merging of the ‘Old Country’ with the ‘New’ – England and Australia. The steamship is the lifeline between the two – steaming along the distant horizon, heading to or from Australia.

Arnold Jarvis (1881-1951) watercolour
Arnold Jarvis (1881-1951) watercolour – Victorian Southern Coastal Scene
Arnold Jarvis (1881-1951) watercolour
Arnold Jarvis (1881-1959) watercolour
Very large Arnold Jarvis watercolour, “Old Australian Farm”, circa 1920. (white patches are reflections on glass)

Arnold Jarvis works at Moorabool Antiques, Geelong

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