The cold and misty, early morning scenes by Elioth Gruner from the era of the First World War, are some of the most charming and popular paintings held in our state galleries. Spring Frost (1919) and Morning Light (1916) in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection; Spring Morning (1917) in the Newcastle Region Art Gallery collection; Clearing Fog, Prospect (1917) in the Queensland Art Gallery collection and Clearing Mists (1918) in the Art Gallery of South Australia collection, form the core of the works Gruner produced during this time.
Mostly captured as the sun was breaking through the mist, these works were painted at the farm owned by Mr Innes at Emu Plains, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. Norman Lindsay in his book on Gruner imagines how: "It must have been with a queer exultation of inspired emotion that Gruner, wrapped up in chaff-bags to keep the chill out of his blood, watched for those clear, colourless dawns to arrive, with a palette set to a key that would paint the unpaintable, light itself." (N Lindsay, Elioth Gruner, Sydney, 1947, unpaginated)
It was in 1915 that Gruner visited Melbourne to meet up with fellow artist, Harley Griffiths who had recently moved to the southern city. His time in Melbourne was spent with Griffiths and Max Meldrum as well as visiting the National Gallery of Victoria. Due to the generous donation of the Felton Bequest, the Gallery had acquired great international works that were more than breathtaking for this untravelled artist. In particular, Corot's The bent tree was a huge inspiration, resulting in Gruner painting "a large number of 'feathery' Corotesque works for much of the year" (B Pearce, Elioth Gruner 1882-1939, Sydney, 1983, p.14)
It is with the influence of Corot's, 'feathery' depiction of the landscape, that the beauty of Frosty Morn is achieved. However the insight Gruner had over Corot, was the development and understanding of colour from the Impressionists. Instead of the warm rustic glowing hues of the afternoon heat, Gruner was to feel comfortable in using the bright blues and greens to depict the crisp morning chill. It was his perceptive understanding of light and its depiction that saw to the success of this series of works.
As Lindsay acknowledges:
"Gruner painted light as a permeation of surfaces and substances. His trees flame with light. They are not just tree masses against light; they are an emanation of, and a penetration by, light. In short, his work reveals what science has stumblingly sought to define, that light is not merely a radiance from the sun, shining flatly on surfaces, but a radiation penetrating all matter, and of a substance with it." (N Lindsay, op.cit., unpaginated)
It was also in 1916, the year Frosty Morn was painted, that Gruner won the Wynne Prize for his much-loved painting Morning Light, which was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.