The Pressing Question 1874

The Pressing Question 1874

Henry James Johnstone

Oil on canvas

52 x 42 cm


Henry James Johnstone | Day Gallery | A Pressing Question 1874

Housed in an ornate gilt frame- possibly  a replica of an Issac Whitehead moulding

Inscribed verso with signature and number 2.

The Pressing Question painted in 1874 embodies the culture of life on the land in 19th century Australia.

Painted for the Victorian Academy of the Arts exhibition in 1874, and originally titled ‘Wooed and Won’ the work was compared with other romantic genre paintings from ‘The motherland’.

The painting made such an impact on the proprietors of the Australian Illustrated News, that they purchased it from the exhibition and commissioned  Samuel Calvert to produce a colour print only months later. The title seems to have changed with the months between August to December, presumably with the artists approval. The new title ‘The Pressing Question’ was made public via the Christmas colour supplement of 1874.

The distinctly Australian landscape backdrop and the sense of colonial life on the land set it apart as a painting that defined an era.

Establishing a life in rural Australia in the 19th century was a tough proposition. The stockman depicted is a great metaphor of this. His second love (the horse) and trusty work companion is settled next to the rustic hut in the background. He stands with one hand over the fence barrier, clutching the hand of his love, starring intensely at her awaiting for approval. His other hand is clutching his stock whip, a tool of equal importance that provides a passage to his life on the land. The metaphorical use of intertwined trees and fence railings compositionally establishes their love for one another.

This painting is one of the finest surviving works providing an insight into the culture of love and life on the land in 19th century Australia.

“From the very beginning of his art work, Mr Johnstone displayed a great power of depicting the peculiar characteristics of Australian scenery and Australian men and women. Previous to 1874 he had painted ‘Old Mates’ Fire Light Reflection’ and ‘A Pressing Question’ which the latter was reproduced in The Australian News and was one of the best specimens of colour printing which up to that period had been executed in the colony. It represents a stockman, whip in one hand, while with the other he grasps the palm of an Australian maiden and asks her to be his wife”

Extract from: Victorian Artists in London | H J Johnstone | Leader (Melbourne) Sat 10th October 1891 page 39 | Fine Arts

Supplement to the Illustrated Australian News

A Pressing Question 1874

“The True artist is necessarily a poet, and in the picture which we have selected for our Christmas coloured illustration, Mr H. J. Johnstone tells the old love story of rural life with the freshness of new surroundings, the Australian bush taking the place of old scenes in older lands, dear to memory as the trysting places of early youth, and which have formed the theme of many a cherished gem in the art galleries of the mother country. When this picture was exhibited at the Victorian Academy of Art, it commanded universal admiration, and was at once secured by the proprietors of this paper for the purpose of reproduction in the form of in which it is now presented to our readers. The situation interprets itself.  The slip panel often finds the selectors daughter occupied in some not too absorbing task about the gloaming when the young squatter is making his way homeward by possibly not the shortest road. His grey pony stands by the shed as if familiar with the locality. On this night an unusual earnestness pervades the scene. The Wattles have shed their bloom, the spring is advancing, but a cool and balmy air breathes under a clear twilight sky. What time so favourable for the ardent youth to press his suit and with fluttering heart await the answer which he believes is to seal his fate for over. But prudence stamps the brow of his charmer and she has nerved herself to the duty of curbing his impatience till she has sought the advice of loving parents. A short delay evidently implored, and the twitching of fingers tells the effort it costs her to resist his appeals. All the better for the future. The devoted daughter makes the most devoted wife”

Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers  (Melbourne)  Wednesday 30th December 1874 | page 2 our illustrations

The Victorian Academy of the Arts exhibition August 1874

 “Wooed and Won (Catalogue 38) by Mr H.J. Johnstone, is noteworthy on account of the Flemish  finish of the drapery, and the ability with which the artist has contrived to make both persons who figure in this rustic idyll tell the story”.

The Argus | Saturday 15th August | page 5 | 1874


Victorian Academy of The Arts Exhibition Melbourne August 1874

Catalogue 38 Titled ‘Wooed and Won’

Purchased from above exhibition by the proprietors of The Australian Illustrated News.

Published in December 1874 as a colour supplement to the Christmas edition and titled ‘The Pressing Question”

Leonard Joel 23/7/1986 Australian and New Zealand paintings lot 96 titled ‘A Bush Romance’

Christopher Day Gallery  Sydney September 1988 catalogue 17 titled ‘A Bush Romance’

Private Collection Sydney

Day Gallery Blackheath titled  ‘A Pressing Question’

H Johnstone | The pressing Question