Although renowned for his maritime paintings, of which seven were sold to the Prince of Wales following his arrival in Tasmania in 1875, Haughton Forrest is best known for his depiction of the Tasmanian landscape. His aim in depicting these wilderness subjects was to create an effect that was as true to life as a photograph, while in the process downplaying certain aspects of the older painting tradition. "The power of science in the nineteenth-century art was demonstrated in another way by painters Haughton Forrest, HJ Johnstone and WC Piguenit, who used photography or, more accurately, the appearance of photography to validate their respectful vision of nature." (M Eagle & J Jones, A Story of Australian Painting, Sydney, 1994, p.60)
In contrast to romantic painters such as von Guerard, Haughton Forrest was a topographer, interested in capturing effects of light, air and water. Whereas the painting method of many of his predecessors was to eliminate what was seen as irrelevant detail, Haughton Forrest worked "in the opposite principle believing that the accumulation of corroborative detail in a picture gave credability to the painted scene". (G Sturgeon, Australia - The Painter's Vision, Sydney, p. 22)
The relationship between the Tasmanian setting and light were fundamental to his pictorial depictions. Not only was Haughton Forrest able to illustrate the intensity and diversity of the Australian skies, he was able to suggest how light responded to nature - a glistening lake, a luminous glow seeping through the tree canopy of the rainforest, a crisp mountain stream.
In River Scene, Haughton Forrest has clearly mastered this transient effect of light and atmosphere. Although a contained and shady setting, the luminous sky lifts and brings to life the tranquil stream and its banks. In doing so, Haughton Forrest has managed to portray a freshness and vitality often lacking in many landscape paintings.