It was a return trip for the artist, who had lived here for a time as a child, while his father was Principal of the local primary school.
Early next year Streeton will make yet another return visit to our shores, his most significant yet.
In what is being regarded as a major coup, Queenscliff Gallery and Workshop will exhibit never-before published prints of etchings done by the artist during his travels to England in 1908.
For eight weeks from March the gallery will exhibit the works in a landmark show, set to draw potentially thousands of visitors to the town. Nine contemporary artists in residence will also be part of the exhibition, demonstrating Streeton's influence.
By luck, chance or maybe even karma, the Gallery’s Theo and Soula Mantalvanos were entrusted with the precious pieces after meeting Streeton’s grandson, William Streeton early in 2016.
“It’s funny how this story all comes together,” says Theo. “William came into the gallery and I just said to him, like I do to any customer, ‘how’s your day, what have you been doing,’ and then I asked if he had seen the lovely exhibition of Streeton’s at the Geelong Gallery. He said, ‘I have seen the exhibition, I’m his grandson.’”
When William mentioned he might pop back in, Theo thought little of it until a week later when he returned with the badly damaged plates, wrapped in a blanket.
“He asked did we want to have a look at them and did we want to have a go at repairing them,” says Theo.
“My immediate thought and comment to him was ‘we don’t want to damage them’ and his response was ‘they already are so let’s do something, the worst thing that’s going to happen is they get damaged more so.’”
The couple immediately turned to highly-regarded Queenscliff-based mezzotint artist Graeme Peebles – an “icon” of printing, according to Theo.
“We got excited but we realised we couldn’t keep cleaning by hand, it was going to take days and days and that’s when we engaged Graeme to clean them further as best he knows how.
“Without his help we would not have got as far as we did and he’s humble and he’s genuine and he loves what he does and we love having his work.”
The precious bounty has remained secret for some six months while the trio, with full blessing from Streeton’s remaining family - worked behind the scenes to revive the plates. They managed to illicit his stunning imagery from 11.
One, used as a putty palette, was unsalvageable. A chunk of copper had been removed from another and used for running plumbing repairs in the Streeton family home.
Revered the world over for his stunning landscape paintings, the etchings, although never previously editioned printed, reveal Streeton also showed promise in printmaking.
“They’re beautiful pieces, I’m not just saying that,” Theo says. “Arthur Streeton would have drawn on the plates as a lot of artists do and he would have had another artist doing the technical side of it.”
The significance of the find and its potential impact on Queenscliff is unfathomable. A selection of works by an artist of Streeton’s stature has never before been exhibited here before.
The Land of Golden Fleece - The Geelong Art Gallery’s recent show of Streeton’s significant works drew thousands. As luck would have it, the Queenscliff show will also coincide with an Australia Post celebration of the artist's 150th anniversary.
Soula and Theo are hoping local business and the wider community will embrace the event - even take up the chance to be one of a few corporate sponsors.
“We’re about art and we’re about art education as well,” said Soula. “These prints may have gone away and never be seen and we didn’t want that to happen. And we also wanted to show the process behind them, and we don’t think that that’s ever going to be possible again either.
“The plates are going to be up, the prints are going to be up, admission will be free and everybody is going to be able to walk straight in and see that but also the legacy that an artist like that leaves behind.
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