In 1890 when Arthur Streeton first came to Sydney, he went to live at Curlew Camp at Little Sirius Cove on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour. It is often thought that this camp was the realm only of artists, however it was a place where anyone could live cheaply and be able to travel to work with a degree of ease in the city's environs. Romantically, it has the reputation of an ideal place where artists lived and worked together, swam and played beach cricket. Importantly, it was the place where Streeton painted some of his most evocative and beautiful works remaining to him the source of subject for his most charming paintings over his long career. He was to return there time and time again, seemingly unable to tire of it, always able to find something new in the familiar to portray.
By 1907, when Calm Morning, Sirius Cove was painted, the physical appearance of Sirius Cove had changed little but the camp was gone and Streeton now resided in a city hotel. In a letter to Tom Roberts in July 1907: "Sydney interest is for me all in its surrounding - its fascinating warm grey sky & yellow rock, & purple sea & long undulating shore lines & luxurious langour of expression its semi-Eastern - & there's some chord for that in most of us" (A Streeton quoted in A Galbally & A Gray, Letters from Smike, Melbourne, 1989, p.107).
Further, to Roberts in a later letter in 1907, Streeton wrote: "I've done a good many panels of Cremorne & the lovely Southern Shore & yesterday I opened fire on a 48 x 48 (Sydney Harbour, 1907, collection of National Gallery of Victoria) about 200 yards above the camp. It is still as wild & thick as ever - & one can paint all day & never see a soul - Its a great change & rest for me - The lovely old Banksia trees - & a great deal of native flowers & the long pale blue waters beyond." (Ibid, p.108)
What is evident in this work, is that in the 20 or so years since the days of the artist's camp, the city beyond the idyllic cove had changed greatly. Here we see a bustling harbour of a city growing in world importance. The hills of the eastern suburbs seen in the background are now covered with buildings, with the harbour itself seething with activity - quite a contrast to the lone ferry billowing a distant puff of smoke or a small sailing skiff on the horizon seen in Streeton's paintings of the 1890s.
The Arthur Streeton Catalogue lists 35 works of Sydney Harbour painted in 1907. Of these, 33 were painted on draper's panels, measuring 8 x 27 inches, and sold for 20 to 25 guineas." (G Smith, Arthur Streeton, Melbourne, 1995, p.146).
Streeton had himself romanticised the idea of the panel paintings and they quickly entered the art market's psyche as being highly desirable examples of the artist's work. Streeton again wrote to Roberts on the 5th of October 1907: "my third & best exhibition closed
to-day in Collins Street (open for 5 days only) nearly all my panels (of Sydney) went the 1st day. Nearly all of this panel series of Sydney were done in 1 sitting.with a slight caressing of them indoors & framing." (A Galbally & A Gray, op.cit. p.109).