A taste for adventure seems to have marked Haughton Forrest's early years. Born in Boulogne, France and schooled in Germany and Jamaica, in 1875 he accepted the offer of 60 acres of farming land from the Brazilian Government in Paranagua in Southern Brazil. He found the conditions there unsuitable, and embarked on a new life in Tasmania in 1876.
The beauty and lushness of Tasmania from early settlement was well documented. The first European to discover the area, Surveyor-General George Frankland, had commented in 1835: "I will not dilate on the extreme beauty of the scenery, as it might be considered out of place in an official report. But I must confess that, while narrating the circumstances of this journey, I feel inspired by the first discovery of such romantic country, impressions which revive even in cold narrative." (G. Frankland, Report on Lake St Clair, 1835)
Despite his willingness to travel the world, Forrest seems to have remained remarkably settled in Hobart from the time of his arrival until his death in 1925, not travelling again except to Launceston. Forrest's highly detailed depictions of the Tasmanian landscape, including this view Mount Olympus and Mount Marion, Tasmania, were made possible largely through the work of photographer John Watt Beattie, rather than his own en plein air depictions. The photographer had visited Lake St. Clair, at the foot of Mount Olympus, and produced a large series of dry plates of the area in 1879, now in the collection of the National Library of Australia, Canberra.
Although Forrest seems to have relied on Beattie's images for the subject of this painting, rather than experiencing the beauty of the scene in person, his use of photographs was consistent with a broader trend in artistic practice. Together with artists including H.J. Johnstone and W.C. Piguenit, Forrest used photography to provide an 'objective', scientific view of nature, which could then be reproduced on canvas.
In Mount Olympus and Mount Marion, Tasmania, Forrest uses a subdued palette: saplings in the foreground are highlighted by a fine white line, and are superbly reflected in the still waters of the lake. Behind them, the bluestone mountains from which the painting takes its name, are rendered in lilac. The calm, polished quality of the work bears the hallmarks of its photographic origins: "Because the nineteenth-century camera produced images that were monochromatic, fixed, without movement, and sharply focussed, the paintings that strove for the appearance of photography would also be more or less tonal, evenly-accented, still, smooth and textureless. They could be, and frequently were, sublimely atmospheric." (M. Eagle & J. Jones, A Story of Australian Painting, Sydney, 1994, p.60)