Art for a new coun­try

The rein­ven­tion of Im­pres­sion­ism by a small group of artists helped to de­fine Aus­tralia’s dis­tinct char­ac­ter and na­tional iden­tity, says Matthew Stur­gis

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

It’s not my idea of a land­scape,’ a Mel­bourne gallery­goer in­formed the 33- yearold Aus­tralian artist tom Roberts in 1889. What they wanted, it turned out, was a con­ven­tion­ally ‘Old World’ bu­colic scene: ‘a reedy brook with a few trees over­hang­ing it, and a strong sky’. ‘Well,’ said Roberts, ‘it’s just that kind of pic­ture you don’t get here—and we are the bet­ter for the change.’

It was a change ef­fected, very largely, by Roberts him­self, to­gether with his young dis­ci­ples Arthur stree­ton and Charles Con­der. Its man­i­fes­ta­tions are the sub­ject of the ex­cel­lent small ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Gallery. ‘Aus­tralia’s Im­pres­sion­ists’ brings to­gether some 40 pic­tures by these artists: im­ages— beau­ti­ful and un­fa­mil­iar to a Bri­tish au­di­ence—of syd­ney Har­bour and the Dan­de­nong Ranges, of churn­ing seas and stam­ped­ing sheep. there is not a reedy brook in sight.

the show is part of the Na­tional Gallery’s fas­ci­nat­ing se­ries ex­am­in­ing the adop­tion— and adap­ta­tion—of in­no­va­tory artis­tic ideas as they spread from the cul­tural cen­tres of 19th­cen­tury Europe to the far cor­ners of the globe: Amer­ica, scan­di­navia and, now, Aus­tralia.

‘Im­pres­sion­ism’ was the great new ex­cite­ment of the late-19th­cen­tury art world, chal­leng­ing the con­ven­tional or­tho­dox­ies of the sa­lon and the Academy. Al­though, nowa­days, the word has be­come as­so­ci­ated largely with the bright hues and bro­ken brush­work of Monet, Renoir, Pis­sarro and their im­me­di­ate French con­frères, through­out the pe­riod it­self, the term re­mained a broad one.

It was deemed to stand in op­po­si­tion to ev­ery­thing from the old painterly virtues of ‘high fin­ish’ and minute de­tail to the de­mands of nar­ra­tive and di­dac­tic moral pur­pose. It sought new sub­ject mat­ter—in the mod­ern me­trop­o­lis and the un­ex­pected view—and it bor­rowed bold aes­thetic ideas from other cul­tures, most no­tably Ja­pan.

the ‘Im­pres­sion­ism’ that tom Roberts en­coun­tered as a young art stu­dent in Lon­don in the early 1880s was the ‘Im­pres­sion­ism’

Tom Roberts con­jures up the ur­ban bus­tle of a dusty Mel­bourne street in Al­le­gro con Brio, Bourke Street West (about 1885–6)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.