What are hotels for? Sleeping or housing art collections? On the walls of Jenolan Caves House, the iconic Blue Mountains hotel, there is a collection of paintings and historic photos, about which few people know. Visitors can view this little known collection whenever they visit Jenolan.
The Blue Mountains is truly the city of the arts. Galleries, especially in the upper mountains, showcase an eclectic range of artistic talent, from traditional landscapes inspired by the great natural beauty of the area to cutting edge modernism.
Commercial tourist ventures play a pivotal part in the promotion of art. The annual Sculpture at Scenic World exhibition has enjoyed such great success during the past three years that it is now extended for another three.
Jenolan Caves provided the inspiration for photography from the 1880s. Trying to capture the crystal features on film, lit only by early electricity and the flare of burning magnesium, proved an irresistible challenge. Examples of these early photographs can be seen in the corridors of Caves House, along with exterior scenes of Caves House and the Jenolan district during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Similar to the Power House Tyrell Collection (which has several excellent early views of the Greater Blue Mountains) the Wilson Collection and the Whalan Collection can be viewed on the second and third floors of Caves House.
Fine art has also not been neglected at Jenolan. In 2008, the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust initiated an artist in residence program. As the changing seasons are markedly noticeable in the Jenolan Valley, each artist was asked to produce a work that reflected the season of their residence.
The first artist, in the spring of 2008, was Canberra-based John James, whose large triptych-like oil panels Evening Becomes Night, hanging today in the Magnolia Room of Caves House, were inspired by the reflections of electric lighting on Jenolan’s Blue Lake.
That summer, the artist in residence was Blackheath painter, illustrator and qualified art therapist Mandy Evans who, like John James, was influenced by the famed J.M.W. Turner. Certainly her painting The Essence of Summer at Jenolan, displayed in the foyer of Caves House, demonstrates the abstract impressionism that Turner brought to 19th century landscape art.
As a complete contrast, the autumn artist for 2009 was Loris Quantock, whose intriguing piece hangs above the doorway to the gift shop in the foyer of Caves House. Created from natural materials found on the ground at Jenolan, Loris said: “My highly individual art reflects my observation of and intense reaction to the rich diversity of the landscape”. This inspiration has lead to her exhibiting twice at the prestigious Menier Gallery on London’s South Bank.
Directly opposite the work of Loris Quantock hangs an oil painting by famed Blue Mountains landscape artist Robyn Collier who was artist in residence during winter 2009. This is a magnificent portrayal of the wintry landscape at Jenolan Frost in Mc Keown’s Valley. Robyn used a camera to capture the special moment, a hoar frost on the ground as the light of the new day lit up the limestone cliffs. Then in her temporary Caves House studio she used the Alla Prima technique (direct wet paint wet-in-wet) to create the stunning painting you can see today.
Also hanging in the foyer is a most historic oil painting. The artist is George Collingridge and shows the Devil’s Pulpit, a rock outcrop beyond the huge Devil’s Coach House Cave. This was originally shown at the inaugural Art Society of NSW exhibition in December 1880 at the famed Garden Palace in Sydney and was among the very earliest artwork depicting the Jenolan Caves.
Guests going down to the lounge, on the ground floor of Caves House, will see another product of the artist in residence program, Marion Westmacott’s Ferns of Jenolan. Accredited as Australia’s leading botanical artist, Marion has a long and illustrious career in this most specialised field. Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust was most proud to have her as the artist in residence for the spring of 2009. Artists sign their work but Marion chooses to further identify hers by a raindrop – look hard and you will find it.
On the first floor of the 1910 wing of Caves House is the snooker room, and here hang two fine oils. On your left as you enter is Jacqueline Martin Miller’s Lily, Lady of the Cave which depicts Lady Cecelia Carrington, wife of Lord Carrington, Governor of NSW from 1885 – 1890. The much loved Lady Carrington was instrumental in setting up a fund to assist the widows and orphans of the 81 miners killed in the Bulli Colliery explosion of March 1887. Lord and Lady Carrington were the first in a long line of VIPs to stay at the caves.
On the opposite wall is the work of the last artist in residence, the dynamic Ken Tucker, who specialises in the en plein air painting technique. Now resident in Narromine and exhibiting all over the Central West, Ken visited the caves a great deal as a child and was always taken with the dramatic sight of some of the larger crystal formations. The one depicted here is the Angel’s Wing, a 9m shawl in the Temple of Baal Cave.
Jenolan Caves House and the caves themselves are open every day. The public rooms of Caves House are open for visitors to wander around and look at the paintings and historic photos.
Go to www.jenolancaves.org.au for more information.