Monday 12 November 2018

The Colour of Sydney

Jacaranda blooms against blue Sydney sky
Jacaranda Time!
There's a magical purplish-blue hue dotted across Sydney's skyline at the moment. Yes, it's Jacaranda Time! The Jacaranda mimosifolia, a tree introduced to these shores around 150 years ago, for a short period during spring (a.k.a. Michaelmas Term* in the Olden Days) generously gives most of us the treat of a regal display of their purple blossoms. I say most, as for some, (and I'm not naming names, Mum), they are not a treat but a nuisance, dropping their showy petals and carpeting otherwise tidy lawns and driveways and even playing merry havoc with their swimming pools. Tiresome! 

But for the rest of us, tourists and locals alike, they are much beloved and when they put on their splendid display, it's worthy of celebration. The Pipistrello's are particularly lucky to live in an older part of the city, where the trees are abundant and well-established, and as we aren't tasked with the job of cleaning up after them, we are quite happy to Make a Fuss over their seasonal glory. Even a grey and wet day is made brighter by their pop of colour peaking out over rooftops and across vistas.

Woolloomooloo rooftop view if Sydney Harbour Bridge and jacaranda in rain
The Harbour Bridge glimpsed across rooftops
Mr. P. and I walked with J through the rain over to the Art Gallery of New South Wales the other day to catch the end of the John Russell exhibition, taking in the grand floral display through the old suburb of Woolloomooloo, where the harbour foreshore and naval base rubs up against Victorian terraces and narrow streets, public housing and chic modern developments. Eclectic, maritime, but oh-so-leafy, too, this little suburb is what separates the Pipistrello roost from the City and is home to J&P and is a far cry from the plague-ridden slums of its past, a mere hundred-odd years ago.

Springtime jacaranda blooms in Woolloomooloo
The spring streetscape on a sunnier day

The exhibition John Russell: Australia's French impressionist**  was the first survey of this artist who spent forty years from the 1880s in Europe, studying first at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, then under Fernand Cormon in Paris. There he settled into the avant-garde set and experimented with emerging styles and the exhibition is thusly broad and ranges wide. Along the way he formed close friendships with Van Gogh and Rodin and had an influential encounter with Monet in Brittany, which is evident in some of the works which I did prefer (unsurprising, as my taste, as mentioned before, is so very Pedestrian). Alongside Russell's work there were pieces from his friends and contemporaries and a series of Rodin's busts of his wife, Marianna.

Behold, some of my favourite paintings of John Russell's, a former resident of our 'hood come good:

John Russell painting, The Garden, 1887, AGNSW exhibition 2018
The garden,
Longpré-les-Corps-Saints, 1887

John Russell painting, Antibes, 1892, AGNSW exhibition 2018
View from Hotel Jouve, 1892

John Rusell painting, Rough Sea, Morestil, 1900
Rough Sea,
Morestil, Belle-Île, c1900

John Russell painting, Stormy weather at Belle-Île, 1904, AGNSW exhibition 2018
Stormy weather at Belle-Île, 1904

Perhaps it was the seasonal joy of the Jacaranda-Fest working its magic on my subconscious, but the preceding four choices of painting did leap out at me as worthy of a photographic attempt. Because I am unsubtle and need to push my palette point, here are some more gratuitous photos of the same streets walked on a sunnier day:

Jacaranda blooms in Woolloomooloo with street sign
Beneath the canopy

Jacaranda blossoms under blue sky in Woolloomooloo
Painterly palette in Cathedral Street

East Sydney Hotel with jacaranda tree in bloom on sunny day
Classic old pub on Cathedral Street
And a couple more of Russell's painting, for good measure and to show I'm not entirely fixated on purple at the moment:

John Russell painting, Mrs Russell among the flowers at Goulphar, 1907, AGNSW exhibition 2018
Mrs Russell among the flowers in the garden of Goulphar,
Belle-Île, 1907

John Russell watercolour, Pear blossom in grey, 1920, AGNSW exhibition 2018
Pear blossom in grey, 1920

Rainy day outside AGNSW with view to Potts Point and Woolloomooloo in springtime
Rainswept view from the AGNSW across to Woolloomooloo
You could take the man out of Sydney but its colours remain in his work!

* In the unlikely event a Youth is lurking about these pages, Get Back to your Studies!

** If this exhibition is News To You, sadly, you have now missed it.


  1. Hello Pipi,

    I'd be smiling all day if I were to walk amidst the Jacarandas of your hood. What an extraordinary vision of majestic purple. We have nothing like it here in my hood. What we have instead (and what made me chuckle when I read about the messy habit of Jacarandas) is New Zealand Christmas trees or Metrosideros excelsa to give them their botanical name. Ugh, you've not seen messy until you've seen these in bloom. A friend parked his red car under one for a week while he went off traveling only to return to find the car had grown a red wooly coat of fallen tree stamens dripping in sap.

    I enjoyed the connection of the purple hued paintings which, of course, I spotted straight away.

    1. Hello CD,

      Yes, I know the Metrosideros excelsa well, which are around and about here, too, but not as major street plantings. Messy, messy! And a fun job for your friend to clean up their woolly car, perhaps not!

      We don't have Jacarandas planted around our apartment building but our driveway is shaded by massive Ficus macrophylla wherein houses at night a small colony of flying foxes. The fruit is inedible for us mere humans but is an indescribable treat for these "bats" and if you leave your car sitting for too long under their canopy, the attendant mess of fruit and poo &c. on your car is also indescribable. City life, hey?

    2. I've just read up on Ficus macrophylla, a species we don't have here in the Bay Area (at least I've not seen any firsthand). Lovely trees indeed. I laughed at the bat meet car comment. Here, with our Metrosideros excelsa, raccoons seem to favor hiding in their canopy and enjoy playing hide-and-seek with us as we walk by. They are very cute and mischievous little fellows.

    3. How adorable! And such a fitting game with their little bandit masks. I should have entitled this post Nature Notes!

    MY MOTHER snuck in from MEXICO when I was a baby in my diaper!!!!!
    That tree blossomed every year in my front yard ;I have fond memories of it!

    1. Hip hooray! Welcome back into play!!

      I can't imagine the smuggling exercise went without some noisy protestations from the miniature you! You were so lucky to have one of your own. Clever, tasteful Mother!

  3. How beautiful the Jacaranda tree is Vanessa and lovely photographs too. It is too cold to grow them here in the UK although some try. XXXX

    1. In the past I, too, valiantly tried to grow beloved plants well outside of their comfort zone to no great success. The heart wins over common sense when it comes to blossoms!

      Thank you for stopping by, Jackie! xx


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Bats In The Belfry