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Australian Impressionism & its Influence on Contemporary Art

Art Lovers | 21 May 2021

Written by Ella Peile for Art Lovers Australia

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Soundtrack for reading: Peter Sculthorpe, No. 1 Morning Songhttps://open.spotify.com/track/5w7xtj5zEOxQgDm2NHktPp?si=058e09cb4d114b76

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While Impressionism may immediately bring France to mind, it’s worth remembering Australia’s own ‘school’ of Impressionism, distinct from its European cousin and as important to the national canon.

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.

Holiday sketch at Coogee by TOM ROBERTS | 1888

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.

Fire’s on by ARTHUR STREETON | 1891

The painterly approach to light and atmosphere can be seen in Australian art right through the 20th Century to today. The influence of the Impressionists is evident in the work of these contemporary artists:

Ron Bryant and Rod Moore follow the en plein air tradition to capture the light and warmth of the Queensland coast. Memories of summer holidays and the smell of salt air come to mind.

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Incoming Tide by RON BRYANT

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Noosa Beach by ROD MOORE

Felicia Lowe names the Heidelberg School as a powerful influence, which is apparent in her reverent depictions of sunlight filtering through the bush.

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Golden Outlook by FELICIA LOWE

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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