Soundtrack for reading: Peter Sculthorpe, No. 1 Morning Song: https://open.spotify.com/track/5w7xtj5zEOxQgDm2NHktPp?si=058e09cb4d114b76
Sometimes called the Heidelberg School after the area responsible for the style’s seminal works, Australian Impressionism created some of the country’s most iconic images and continues to have influence.
In the late 19th Century the population was booming along with the economy, and despite “Australia” not yet existing as a political entity, a national identity for white Australians was emerging. It was tied to the land, to physical work, and to leisure time at the beach.
Artists such as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton captured this colonial relationship with the land – a place of opportunity but also danger, something to be tamed. They portrayed the unique aspects of the Australian landscape: curling grey gum leaves, dry grasses, peeling bark, glaring sun, red soil and clear skies. Specificity of time and place was achieved by painting en plein air (outside), with a focus on capturing the experience and atmosphere (glare, haze, wind, etc.) through colour and tone. Looking at an Impressionist painting puts you within a personal viewpoint, submerged in the landscape.
Felicia Lowe names the Heidelberg School as a powerful influence, which is apparent in her reverent depictions of sunlight filtering through the bush.
Marc Poisson is influenced by Roberts and Streeton, which is particularly evident in his seascapes, depicting the mist and haze of the Australian coast.
With more people holidaying at home, now is a great time to look back at Australian art movements, their connection to place, and their continued importance to the art world.
*Banner image: “Washing day Kallista” by Tom Roberts | 1923-25
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