Australians on the Western Front: Streeton and the art of his own war

RECORD: Lieutenant Arthur Streeton, official war artist. Picture: AWM P03451.001

RECORD: Lieutenant Arthur Streeton, official war artist. Picture: AWM P03451.001

One of Australia’s greatest landscape artists, Sir Arthur Streeton, was appointed an official war artist by the Commonwealth Government in 1918.

Best known as a painter in Melbourne’s Heidelberg school in the 1890s, Streeton was living in London when war broke out. In 1915, aged 48, he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps with fellow artist Tom Roberts.

Streeton spent from May to August recording the battlefields around the Somme River and returned to France in October to record the aftermath of the 2nd Australian Division’s victories at Peronne and Mont St Quentin.

He produced 10 paintings and 86 drawings in 1918 and 1919 – largely landscapes showing the impact on the terrain – that are held by the Australian War Memorial.

Streeton’s subjects ranged from dressing stations at Villers-Bretonneux and the Somme valley above Corbie to a painting depicting Australian soldiers gathered in Peronne square around a burning effigy of the German Kaiser on Armistice Day.