Mosman Art Trail follows the footsteps of famous artists

Feeding into the Bondi to Manly walk—an 80km hike traveling through coastal and suburban areas of Sydney—the Mosman Art Trail winds across 10km, taking in the views, locations and landmarks that have inspired generations of artists, from Arthur Streeton and Margaret Preston to Susan Rothwell and Jasper Knight.

At specific points throughout the trail, illustrated signage marks out places significant to artists, with each sign featuring a reproduction of an artwork incorporating the view walkers see, and a description outlining its historical context. Beginning at Mosman Bay with two works by Margaret Preston (Mosman Bay, 1925 and Mosman Bridge, 1927), Mosman Art Trail leads walkers via numerous hidden beaches, Sydney Harbour National Park, and Shell Cove, and concludes at Beauty Point.

John William Ashton, House Boats, The Spit, Sydney Harbour, 1937.
The Spit, Sydney Harbour, 2023 photograph by Jacquie Manning.

The idea behind the trail was initially put forth by philanthropist Neil Balnaves, who began thinking about the many artists connected to the area, while walking through Mosman during pandemic lockdowns. “Neil had personally gathered a collection of works by significant Australian artists who were active around Mosman and had documented the area,” explains Mosman Art Gallery director, John Cheeseman. “They were mostly historical works, so they visualise a growing Australian identity along with a sense of place and purpose.”

In addition to the subtle changes in the water views, many of the landmarks depicted in the original artworks are no longer present. Long-term Mosman local and architect of over 50 homes in the area, Susan Rothwell, has her painting, Balmoral Shark Net, 2008, featured on the trail and she speaks fondly of her time there. “It was a beautiful place to grow up, Balmoral (beach) was our playground,” she says. “I learned to swim in the rock pool at Edwards Beach, and the shark proof net was there. It’s been taken down now, so the art trail shows what certain spots meant to the artists, but also how Mosman used to be.”

The beaches of Balmoral inspired Rothwell and her predecessors, the Impressionist painter Ethel Carrick Fox (On Balmoral Beach, 1913) and newspaper illustrator Albert Henry Fullwood (View from Balmoral, 1885). Further along the trail, Arthur Streeton’s Sydney Harbour, 1895, was a sight he would have seen while spending time at the nearby Curlew Camp, established in the late 19th century, and regularly frequented by painters like Streeton and Tom Roberts.

Ethel Carrick Fox, On Balmoral Beach Sydney, 1913.
Balmoral Beach, Mosman, 2023. Photo Jacquie Manning.

Lighthouses and industrial structures are a recurring theme in the work of Sydney based artist Jasper Knight, and near the end of the trail, walkers pass by the subject of his painting, Spit Bridge Tower, 2015. Painted in Knight’s trademark wide brushstrokes and dripping acrylic paint, the tower fascinated the artist as a child, and it currently remains connected to one of Sydney’s last fully operational lift bridges. At Pearl Bay and Beauty Point, the trail concludes with Will Ashton’s Houseboats, The Spit, 1937, and James R. Jackson’s The Spit, Sydney, 1935, both illustrating idyllic water views populated by boats and coastal scrub.

In addition to the trail signage, a spoken commentary voiced by actor Claudia Karvan can also be accessed via QR code for more information about the works, which are currently on display at the Mosman Art Gallery.

As Cheeseman puts it, “Mosman Art Trail is a snapshot looking at the past but it’s also putting things in context today, allowing us to expand on what each work is about.”

Mosman Art Trail
Opening Tuesday 30 April

Feature Words by Briony Downes