Arthur Streeton produced a comprehensive body of work in response to his two-month sojourn in Cairo on his way to London in 1897. This essay explores his range of responses to the city, expanding current understandings of the artist’s experience of travel through analysis of his stylistic approach to Orientalist subject matter, and examination of the degree to which he engaged with the medium of photography. The impact of the visit was much more than the brevity of Streeton’s stay suggests. Cairo signalled his first significant experience of a foreign environment, with a predominately urban landscape of monumental architecture and bustling bazaars, and the opportunity for engagement with the ethnographic figure as subject. In a departure from Australian landscapes produced during the late 1880s and 1890s that were painted in situ, Streeton synthesised a number of his Egyptian subjects, employing sketches together with photographic sources. During the journey Streeton amassed a collection of photographs purchased from commercial studios, as well as amateur photographs, which have been attributed to the artist. The subjects of these photographs point to strong trends in the market for tourist imagery that influenced the artist’s output. The photographs were used to provide details of costume, architecture and decoration in a small number of oil and watercolour paintings.
EMMA KINDRED | Souvenir and Source: Arthur Streeton’s Cairo through the Lens