Barron Falls: Reflecting on the forces of nature

Barron Falls: Reflecting on the forces of nature


We celebrate Queensland Day on 6 June, the date is significant because on that day in 1859, Queensland officially separated from New South Wales and became independent. To commemorate this day, we highlight Winifred Rumney’s painting Barron Falls painted in 1906. The Falls became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Queensland after the Kuranda Scenic Railway opened in 1891, allowing visitors to access its natural features.

Winifred Rumney (1860-1919) painted Barron Falls in Far North Queensland in the early part of the twentieth century, it is a unique work painted in Edwardian Queensland at a time when most women artists were painting flower pieces. It is even more unusual because this large landscape was executed by a little known artist who taught at a Technical College in Cairns.

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This powerful painting on display in the Josephine Ulrick & Win Schubert Galleries, Australian Art Collection at the Queensland Art Gallery captures the raging waters in minute detail after substantial rainfall, acknowledging the power of the forces of nature.

Winifred Rumney ‘Barron Falls’ 1906

Winifred Rumney, England/Australia 1860-1919 / Barron Falls 1906 / Oil on canvas / 128.9 x 86.2cm / Gift of the Agent-General for Queensland, London 1971 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Barron Falls documented in the early twentieth century

Barron Gorge National Park is a World Heritage Area north-west of Cairns and part of the traditional lands of the Djabugandji Bama people who maintain a close spiritual connection with the country. The steep tiered cascade waterfall tumbling over craggy rocks on the Barron River is located where the water descends from the elevated regions of the Atherton Tablelands to the Cairns coastal lowlands.

This photo was taken from a now disused viewing point along the walking path to the bottom of the falls / Harriett Pettifore Brims 1864-1939 / Barron Falls c.1900 / 31054-0001-0129 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
Harriett Pettifore Brims 1864-1939 / Tourists at the viewing platform, Barron Falls c.1900 / 31054-0001-0230 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
Overlooking the Barron Falls from the railway station c.1910 / 30467-0001-0028 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane / The original capture used for ‘Barron Falls (from Station), Cairns Railway, Queensland’ (from ‘Coloured Shell Series’) c.1910
Unknown, Australia / Barron Falls (from Station), Cairns Railway, Queensland (from ‘Coloured Shell Series’) c.1910 / Postcard: Colour lithograph on paper / 9 x 13.7cm / 116477 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Kuranda Scenic Railway

The Barron Falls can be viewed from the Historic Scenic Railway which cuts through the National Park on its journey between Cairns to Kuranda, just 27km away and at an altitude of 330m. Construction of the railway began in 1886, when completed in 1891 the Falls became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Queensland, with visitors able to access its natural features and scenery.

Unknown, Australia / Barron Falls and train, Cairns Railway, Queensland (from ‘Coloured Shell Series’) c.1910 / Postcard: Colour lithograph on paper / 9 x 13.7cm / Gift of Glenn R Cooke through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2014 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
Unknown, Australia / Barron Falls Station, Cairns Railway, Queensland (from ‘Coloured Shell Series’) c.1910 / Postcard: Colour lithograph on paper / 9 x 13.7cm / 1319089 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Winifred May Rumney

Winifred Rumney (nee Quinnell), the daughter of Elvina Robinson and Scottish surgeon, Colonel R.J. Quinnell, according to her own story, My career as an artist by Winifred Rumney, both she and her brother Cecil, a founder of London’s Royal Society of Miniature Artists, showed artistic promise from an early age. She studied freehand and model drawing at the College of Preceptors in London from 1884 to 1886, before attending the South Kensington School of Art from 1886 to 1887.

After arriving in Australia in 1889, she taught at the Sandgate Ladies’ College from 1890 to 1892. Sandgate, located below the Redcliffe peninsula, was a popular seaside destination for Brisbane’s early settlers in the late 1800s.

From 1853, Rumney travelled to Victoria and painted botanical scenes at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne for both Baron Ferdinand von Mueller (1825-96), the Victorian Government Botanist, and for a time Director of the Gardens; and William Robert Guilfoyle (1840-1912), landscape gardener and botanist, acknowledged as the architect of the Melbourne Gardens.

Traveling to Tasmania, Rumney took lessons in ‘sky and foliage’ from Gladstone Eyre (1862-1933), an Australian portrait artist and landscape painter. In 1896 she married Thomas Rumney in Launceston.

By 1900 Rumney had returned to Queensland, living first in Rockhampton and then in Cairns where she taught painting at Cairns Technical College. While in Cairns, Rumney gave private painting classes and sold her canvases, depicting Far North Queensland scenes.

In 1915, she returning to Melbourne after her husband died where she continued to teach.

Barron Falls today / 228169 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Additional facts and supplementary material by Elliott Murray, Senior Digital Marketing Officer, QAGOMA based on QAGOMA curatorial research.

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