In the upcoming Fine Art Auction, this March, we have the pleasure of welcoming back a valuable collection of paintings that once lived in the personal collection of prominent Melbourne businessman and engineering entrepreneur, Charles Ruwolt (1873-1946).
The Ruwolt name is one that many Melbournians will be familiar with. Charles Ernest Ruwolt was born in Germany in 1873, before migrating with his family to Australia in 1878. Charles spent his early years helping his parents on their wheat farm in Mount Gambier, South Australia. Finding joy in operating machines and working on the land as a young man, Charles took on an apprenticeship at James Martin & Co. machinery manufacturers. Studying engineering, he worked for the following decade in various foundries and manufacturers, slowly establishing himself in the industry.
Within 10 years of opening his own iron foundry in Wangaratta, Victoria, Charles quickly became the leading manufacturer in Australia for mining dredges. Before long, he was distributing his products locally and abroad including to Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, South Africa, and Papua New Guinea. Charles was also a senior figure in the wartime administration of home-front resources, so when the second World War began, Ruwolt started facilitating the production of field artillery, ammunition supply, light artillery, and trench mortars. By 1938, Ruwolt was the largest engineering company and producer of heavy industrial equipment in Australia, employing 600-700 workers at their Melbourne factory in the inner-city suburb of Richmond.
In one generation, Charles single-handedly created an industrial enterprise, making Ruwolt a household name and respected company country wide. He devoted his spare time to his family and tending to his private pastoral property in regional New South Wales. While he was a great lover of horses and held memberships to numerous exclusive racing clubs, he was also a passionate collector of Australian art.
This collection, formed by Charles and his wife Emily, was originally collected in the late 1920s and 30s and for many years hung at their property ‘Yarramundee’ in Mulwala, New South Wales. Following their passing, Leonard Joel held a landmark auction in 1966, “The Charles Ruwolt Collection of Australian Paintings”, encompassing much of their renowned art collection which shifted the market significantly for Australian Art at auction. Among the works offered in this sale were two major watercolours by Hans Heysen, which were reacquired by his children and have remained with the Ruwolt family ever since.
The River 1920 and Drover and Cattle 1917 were completed at a time when both Heysen and Ruwolt were at the height of their careers. Reflecting Ruwolt’s lifelong adoration for the Australian landscape, it is no coincidence that these works were highlights of the collection. Both men were German born with South Australian roots and shared a love of the land and art. Heysen had long been regarded as a major figure in Australian art and Ruwolt, who in a parallel world of machinery, was a major figure in the Australian engineering economy. Therefore, it is only fitting that these two greats of their respective industries aligned as artist and collector.
LUCY FOSTER / Fine Art Specialist
Banner Image: HANS HEYSEN (1877-1968) Drover and Cattle 1917, watercolour on paper, 46 x 62cm. $30,000 – 40,000