Three Slithers of Walter Withers

[Images: Allegory to Spring (Portrait of Gladys Manifold) oil on canvas (1902); The Drover (1912) Bendigo Art Gallery]

Walter Herbert Withers was an Australian landscape artist and a member of the Heidelberg School of Australian Impressionists (The Heidelberg School) along with other famous Australian artists such as Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin.

Withers was born at Handsworth, Staffordshire, on 22 October 1854. He showed an early desire to paint, much to his father’s distaste. By 1882, the 28 year old Withers had migrated to Australia and lived in Melbourne, after completing 18 months on a farm. He began working as a draughtsman for a firm of printers. In his spare time Withers kept up his artwork and some were accepted for exhibition in the Old Academy, Melbourne.

  • In 1887, Withers went to Europe; and with his wife settled in a small flat in Paris, where he studied for some months at the Académie Julian. They returned to Australia the following year settling in the Melbourne suburb of Kew and later, at Eaglemont. It was during this period that he became a member of the Heidelberg School.

After a couple of years, Withers took out a lease on the south wing of the “Charterisville” mansion in East Ivanhoe, where he and his family lived for four years. Two of Withers’ notable pupils were Percy Lindsay, and his younger brother Norman Lindsay.

  • In 1891, Withers opened a studio in Melbourne’s Collins Street West, where he held his first private exhibition. Three years later he was living in a cottage in Cape Street, in the local suburb of Heidelberg.  It was here that he painted some of his finest work of the fin de siècle period.

In 1897, Withers was awarded the first Wynne Prize in Sydney for his picture, “The Storm“, which was purchased by the National Gallery of New South Wales. He was elected to the council of the Victorian Artists’ Society in 1889, and in 1905 held the office of President for one year.

  • His health began to deteriorate, but he continued to do a large amount of painting both in oils and in water-colours. He died just nine days short of his 60th birthday, in Eltham, Victoria on 13 October 1914; and was survived by his wife and four children.

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