Walter Withers' move to Eltham was prompted not only for health reasons but in part due to an unlikely accident. Having commuted from Heidelberg every weekday for the previous nine years via train to his work and art classes in the city, Withers returned home one afternoon to find his studio had been damaged by the blasting that was in operation for a nearby train tunnel. Together with his wife "they entered his studio and there they found not only had a rock pierced the roof, it had also damaged his latest landscape." (A Marshall, Pioneers and Painters - One Hundred years of Eltham and it's Shire, Melbourne, 1971, p. 111). Withers decided he needed to move on and it was his long attraction to the ruggedness and bush qualities of Eltham that convinced him and his family to acquire a small property and move there in 1903.
The grandson of an artist, Walter Withers was born in Birmingham, England in 1854. He pursued his studies at the Royal Academy and South Kensington Schools, incorporating visits to Paris and sketching tours through England into his artistic training. Withers arrived in Australia in 1883 with the intention of settling on the land. He abandoned the bush after 18 months and moved to Melbourne and it's outer environs.
As a painter Withers was fascinated with the elements and in particular, how the atmosphere controlled the light and the weather shaped the landscape. From 1889 Withers resided at the Eaglemont camp, with Roberts, Streeton and Conder, moving to Charterisville the following year, which "provided a focus for continuing the more progressive developments of plein air painting in Melbourne" (J Clarke & B Whitelaw, Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond, Melbourne, 1985, p. 172).
Four years before painting Heidelberg Road, Eltham, Withers completed A Bright Winter's Morning (collection of National Gallery of Victoria), a painting which successfully confirms the artist's ambition in capturing the essence of a season and its moods. Whereas A Bright Winter's Morning offers an overall view, Heidelberg Road, Eltham is in someway a fragment of detail to the former image, yet still alludes to these seasonal qualities. In both works, a herd of cattle meander down a muddy track yet in the latter image the viewer has an extremely realistic impression of this particular scene. Although the herd is the focal point of the composition, it is the depiction of how the landscape and the earth transforms and reacts during this harsh season, which is the intention.
Although Withers' landscapes are domestic in theme, his ability to achieve dramatic effects through his evocation of the weather is unparalleled. As such, the rural settings of Eltham and Heidelberg provided the artist with the ideal environment to encapsulate this artistic vision.