born Great Britain 1854, arrived Australia 1882, died 1914
The Drover 1912
oil on canvas
102.0 x 127.4 cm
David Whyte Bequest Fund 1916
The Drover, 1912, by Walter Withers, depicts a scene familiar in early Australian life - a drover guiding sheep, the dust rising from the dry earth around them, the scene conveying the intense light and heat of a summer's day. Withers had his local butcher in Eltham, a township on the outskirts of Melbourne, pose for this work, which captures a feeling of national pride and an appreciation for the Australian bush.
Born in England in 1854, Withers was a nature lover from an early age. Upon his arrival in Australia in 1882, he immediately made his way into the countryside, keen to discover its beauty. Working as a travelling labourer, he was able to explore the great diversity of the landscape. When he eventually settled in Melbourne, he attended drawing classes and began producing small oil paintings of bush scenes. He also worked as an illustrator and draughtsman.
Withers is possibly best known for his involvement with the group of artists who belong to the 'Heidelberg School', among them Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Charles Conder. Similar to the themes of Impressionism in France, the subject matter of the Heidelberg School painters often had local relevance: these artists were interested in capturing the quality of light - and the spirit - of the Australian landscape, painting in the open air in preference to the studio.
Withers became a most respected figure in the art world in Victoria, both as a teacher and for his extensive oeuvre.