30. NICHOLAS CHEVALIER
Nicholas Chevalier is one of the great names of Australian art of the 19th century. He arrived in Melbourne from Europe in 1854 as a young man, aged 26. His Swiss father and Russian born mother had encouraged his artistic talent from an early age, so that when he arrived he had already attended art schools in Lausanne, Munich and London and was thoroughly trained in all technical aspects of painting as well as printmaking. His father had been employed by a member of the Russian Royal Court, and the polished sociability he brought to Australia was also an important credential in his new country where an outgoing, courtly personality might mean the difference between success or failure. Chevalier quickly established himself in Melbourne. He was appointed to von Neumayer’s 1862 magnetic survey of Victoria, and his work The Buffalo Ranges of 1864 was acquired by the newly established National Gallery of Victoria. Chevalier thereby had the honour of having created the first Australian painting to enter the collection.
His many and varied accomplishments and his mere presence set new standards. Chevalier was arguably Australia’s first fully professional artist, comfortable in all media and any subject. He had started his Australian career producing traditional European works for a local market as well as addressing local landscapes. Likewise he continued painting Australian landscapes for the rest of his life, long after he had left Australia. In 1867 Chevalier was engaged in the preparations for the Royal Tour of the Duke of Edinburgh. He was invited to join the Royal party as it made its way through Tasmania, New Zealand, the South Pacific, South East Asia, Japan, and India before continuing to London. Chevalier took the opportunity to remain in London where he continued to work for the Royal Court. He also continued, however, to travel widely and maintain his links with Australia, frequently dining in London with his fellow expatriot Melbourne painter Eugene von Guérard and to cater to Australian and New Zealand patrons for many years to come. In 1882 he was appointed president of the art buying committee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The Portrait of Miss Winifred Hudson is a very fine and accomplished work, which until recently resided in an English private collection. According to an inscription, possibly in Chevalier’s own handwriting, the painting was ‘completed from sketches on my 60th birthday. Painted in Wellington, Auckland and Melbourne. N Chevalier’ and ‘by sea to R.M. Hudson. Departure port of Melbourne’. The inscription confirms the provenance, which records the painting as being sold by a descendant of the sitter, and thereby presents a case for the artist’s presence in Australia on the 9th May, 1888.
Chevalier was a frequent traveller, and is regularly recorded as making the sea voyage south for the benefit of his health. He is recorded in Madeira in 1887 and 1888. Chevalier participated in the South Seas Exhibition, Dunedin, New Zealand in 1889-90 which would have provided an opportunity for him to be in Australia at the time indicated by the inscription on the back of the present painting.
Timothy Abdallah BA