An image of Pan

Sydney Long

(Australia, England 20 Aug 1871 – 23 Jan 1955)

Pan

Location
19th c Australian art
Further information

When Sydney Long exhibited his art-nouveau masterpiece ‘Pan’ in 1898, it cemented his reputation as a painter who was leading a shift toward a more abstract painting in Australia. Praised locally, Long was also recognised by the influential British art journal ‘Studio’ as a painter of ‘imaginative design’ and one who, through works such as ‘Pan’, contributed a distinct vision to late 19th-century Australian painting.1

Born in Goulburn, NSW in 1871, Long arrived in Sydney in the early 1890s. While an art student under Julian Ashton, he began exhibiting works at the Art Society of NSW in 1894. With his artistic debut - the critically acclaimed ‘By tranquil waters’ (purchased by the Art Gallery of NSW in that year) - Long initiated a series of bush idylls in which he increasingly abstracted natural forms for an expression of place based on moods of enchantment.

‘Pan’ is the finest of Long’s 1890s series of pastoral paintings. The work is set in the twilight of a gum-treed Arcadia, where the pagan god of nature plays his reed pipe to a gathering of nymphs and satyrs. Allusions to Pan’s music are used to visually transpose the landscape into a series of rhythmic art-nouveau arabesques, whose movement is echoed in the crooks and curves of the dancing bodies of the bush pagans. Fusing decorative style with mythological subject matter, Long presented an alternative vision of the Australian landscape, painting it not in terms of its representational qualities, but transforming it into an arena of sensation and emotion.

‘Pan’ is a key example of Symbolist-inspired painting in Australia. Symbolism was an influential late 19th-century movement characterised by works expressing ideas, mood and dream states over material realities, and its artists often employed art nouveau’s sensuous arabesque forms as a means of expressing these metaphysical domains. Pan’s subject matter similarly reflects the Symbolist resurgence of Arcadian pagan gods as poetic embodiments of bucolic liberty and erotic frisson.

Reflecting the influence of international art practices, ‘Pan’ was something of a feat given that Long had not yet ventured out of his home state of New South Wales when he painted it. It may represent the influence of art journals such as ‘Studio’ on Long’s artistic imagination, yet ‘Pan’ also demonstrates his inspired interpretation of international art forms for a culturally specific and modern representation of the Australian landscape during the period when it developed as a potent artistic symbol of the nation’s identity.

1 ‘Studio’, London, vol 13, no 62, May 1898, pp 268–69

Year
1898
Media
Painting
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
107.5 x 178.8 cm stretcher; 155.7 x 228.0 x 9.0 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed l.r. corner, blue oil "SID LONG". Not dated.
Credit
Gift of J R McGregor 1943
Accession number
9017
Copyright
© Estate of Sydney Long. Courtesy Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia