Glenn Cooke

The striking, weathered volcanic plugs of the Glasshouse Mountains, to the north of Brisbane, have long dominated the cultural landscape of south-eastern Queensland. The mountains were venerated by the indigenous people and first documented by Europeans when British Captain James Cook voyaged past on the ‘Endeavour’ in 1770 and named them because of the resemblance to the glass furnaces of his native country. The mountains have fascinated artists since that time. While the mountains have remained constant, the perspective of their artists has changed significantly over time.

The primary image of the Glasshouse Mountains during the nineteenth century was largely taken by itinerant artists from ships as they passed up the coast. One of the earliest was Conrad Martens (1801-78). A watercolour sketch, Glasshouses, Moreton Bay, early morning, Nov. 6th [18]51 marked his introduction to the port of Brisbane and an extensive series of sketches of the Darling Downs. A much more detailed pencil sketch, Beerwah one of the Glasshouse mountains, Feb. 7th 1852 marks its termination. Lord Henry Douglas Scott-Montagu (1832-1905) who studied with Conrad Martens in Sydney also produced a series of views of the mountains from shipboard when he visited Brisbane in 1853.

Settlement provided access to closer views such as the series of naive, sharply delineated drawings of the mountains by Thomas Harford (active 1850-69) in the National Library Collection. The development of rail from 1890 and road transportation opened up the area to bushwalkers and images of the Glasshouse Mountains became more prominent in The Queenslander weekly. A distant view of the mountains, not too dissimilar from that taken at sea, could be viewed from the coastal settlements. Both aspects are documented by George Seymour Owen (1844-1921) in his luminous watercolours such as The Glasshouse Mountains from Scarborough 1889 and Mount Coonoowrin 1889.

The paintings of the Mountains in the early twentieth century were produced largely by artists residing in South Eastern Queensland and were generally small in scale suggesting the domesticated character of the period. W.G. Grant (1876-1951) and his wife Gwendolyn Grant (1878-1968) painted scenes of the North Coast from the late 1920s. Gwendolyn’s View to the Glasshouse Mountains from Reef Point, Redcliffe c1930 like the earlier image from Owen, locates the source of the view to a coastal setting on the Redcliffe Peninsular with the cluster of pandanus. This is the view described by David Malouf in his 1970 poem Glasshouse Mountains,

            Seen always across
            a bay called Deception ...
            No one casts the stone,
            or could over that sunlit
            stone’s throw of water,
            to shatter them. On clear days
            they stand far off, move close
            under cover of rain. ...

The Sydney artist, Jessie Traill (1881-1967), who visited the Grants produced a watercolour of the mountains in 1936 similar to the view chosen by Martens and Montagu.The modernist watercolourist Kenneth Macqueen (1897-1960) began taking holiday trips to the Sunshine Coast in the 1940s and exhibited a watercolour of the Glasshouse Mountains at his November, 1948 exhibition at the Grosvenor Galleries, Sydney (held in the Collection Art Gallery of New South Wales) and made several other images.

During the 1950s and 1960s art prizes proliferated and images of the mountains appeared especially in local competitions such as the Redcliffe Art Contest (from 1959) and the Caloundra Art and Crafts Festival (1971-2005). Landscape was the focus of the H. C. Richards Prize at the Queensland Art Gallery during the 1950s and Charles Bush was awarded the 1952 prize for Glasshouse Mountains. This view taken from Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve (which was donated to the public only in 1941) became one of most the popular vantage points as it provides a panoramic view of the mountains. The mural scaled vision of the mountains by Arthur Evan Read (1911-78), which was commissioned by the Sergeant’s Mess, Amberley Air Force Base in 1966, was painted from a site nearby.

It was also at this time that artists painted their scenes near the base of the mountains so they achieved a looming presence. The dramatic effect of the mountains is seen to effect in Robert Campbell’s watercolour Storm sweeping on Glasshouse Mountains 1952. The monolithic effect is also seen in the work of Graeme Inson (1923-2000) who made frequent trips to Queensland after he began exhibiting with the Town Gallery, Brisbane in 1974 and local subjects have frequently been included in such exhibitions. A series on the Glasshouse Mountains, including a depiction of Tibrogargan and Crookneck featured in his 1992 exhibition there. The simplified brushstroke and restrained colour reflects his training in the Meldrum School.  

The most notable artist associated with the Glasshouse Mountains in recent years is Lawrence Daws who established his studio at ‘Owl Creek’ in the early 1970s. Since then images of the mountains have dominated his output. The sunny aspect of the mountains departed as Daws works in moody monochromes suggesting twilight, reverie and night – although rarely topographical their surprising shapes inform works such as in Owl Creek II, 1979-80. A sense of foreboding that dominates the looming shape of Mt Beerburrum in Gordon Shepherdson’s Dark moon rising 1990 – it was painted from the balcony of his son’s house in Coonowrin Road in the nearby Glasshouse Mountains township.

Daws also hosted artist friends and Brett Whiteley (1939-92) first visited in 1976.  The view lines become even more specific as he recalled in his foreword to the catalogue of his exhibition at Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane in 1981:

The view from the Daws balcony onto the Glasshouse is one of the absolutely monumental views. I have drawn it maybe twenty times now and have never penetrated it, especially the fore ground bush, known affectionately as Hitler’s broccoli.

The most striking of the works was Nude sunning herself 1981 as Whiteley translates the sexualised contours of the woman’s body into the surrounding mountains and the profile of Mt Tibrogargan takes on a more potent aspect. Donald Friend (1915-89) produced a series of red ink drawings of the mountains which were shown at Philip Bacon Galleries in 1983 including an interior entitled The house at Owl Creek which depicts Daws’ studio with a view to the mountains through the window. Other significant artists, Charles Blackman and Robert Dickerson, have produced paintings of the mountains when they resided nearby.

Daws’ arrival in Queensland also coincided with the development of the Sunshine Coast as a prime tourist destination and many visitors sought an image of the mountains as a souvenir. One of the most prominent Brisbane artists who have featured the Glasshouse Mountains was the watercolour artist Joy Roggenkamp (1928-99). Images appear from the late 1960s along with many images of the beach but the mountains became a more significant theme when the artist moved to Maleny in 1983.

Since soldier settler allotments were opened up at Beerburrum in the early 1920s the area around the Glasshouse Mountains is widely known for growing pineapples and it is difficult to produce a close-up view of one of the Glasshouse Mountains and not include a pineapple field. Among the earliest works is an intense and detailed painting by Howard Barron (1900-91), probably dateable to the 1940s, showing felled tree trunks in the foreground and the rich red soil in the mid-ground. The most impressive, and emphatically decorative, depictions of the pineapple plantations have been produced by Melbourne based Anne Marie Graham (b1925). She began visiting Queensland in 1966 and the Glasshouse Mountains have been significant subjects from 1975 when she included Pineapple farm, Queensland as the sixth month in her series ‘Twelve months Australia’ (Collection of the Queensland Art Gallery). She has also produced two major triptychs Dusk at Glasshouse Mountains, 1985-86 and Pineapple farm 1991. In the latter painting the prickly tops of the pineapples dominate the left hand side of the composition while the serried ranks stretch to the distant mountains.

While the mountains lend themselves readily to representational depictions it was not until the 1960s that they became the subject of abstraction – in a sense a site for the imagination. Glasshouse Mountains (Crookneck) 1963 by Shay Docking (1928-98), is one of a series of works painted by Docking from 1963 to 1964. The profiles of the mountains may be discerned amid the sober patchwork of earth tones. Elizabeth Duguid (b1941) is another Queensland artist who has made the mountains a special focus of her work since the early 1980s. Her vigorous style of drawing readily lends itself to abstraction as is evident in her views of the mountains in Glasshouse attraction 2003.

Quite a different vision is revealed in Indigenous artist Joanne Currie Nalingu’s large scale work Glasshouse Mountains as her view of the mountains is a spiritual map in an appropriated dotted technique.

The Melbourne artist Fred Williams produced his gouache Glasshouse Mountains III 1971 (Queensland Art Gallery) giving an extreme lateral version of the view. During the early 1990s Peter Anderson developed a special interest in the Glasshouse Mountains. The view of his major diptych Glasshouse landscape and Moreton view 1990 encompasses the view from Bribie Island and, in fact, reproduces the panoramic view of the mountains experienced from shipboard by the earliest artists.

Whatever perspective artists choose, the Glasshouse Mountains continue to command the fascination of the viewers.

References and Further reading (Note)

John Steele, Conrad Martens in Queensland: the frontier travels of a colonial artist. UQP, Brisbane, 1978

References and Further reading (Note)

'Images of Queensland: paintings drawings and watercolours 1860-1960', Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane 13 May-7 June 1997

References and Further reading (Note)

Foreword to ‘Brett Whiteley’, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 1981

References and Further reading (Note)

The Queenslander

art, artists, mountains