Showcasing the work of four Australian artists who took up the challenge of plein air painting.
Australian art may not be as rich as, say, Italian or German art. But it’s perhaps more complicated, as the major painting survey at the Royal Academy demonstrated in 2013. To be called Australian, should a work be made by indigenous people? Or should it be a response from the antipodes to the traditions we are familiar with in Britain?
Four years later a more even exhibition is promised at the National Gallery, where the bijou Sunley Rooms are given over to Australia’s very own impressionists. The first key style of modern art had a big impact in the 1880s and 1890s. But needless to say the protagonists of this fascinating show studied or lived in Europe rather than the outback.
The 41 paintings include several masterpieces, so if you ever doubted that a classical painting from Oz could be classified as such, this show is for you. Many of these works have never been seen in the UK before and reveal an original response to impressionist tendencies. It’s arguable that Australians took up the challenge of plein air painting to a greater degree than the Brits.
Tom Roberts (1856–1931), Arthur Streeton (1867–1943), Charles Conder (1868–1909), and John Russell (1858–1930) are the key players, who helped build a whole continent’s sense of identity. Those new to Australian art may well leave The National Gallery with newfound respect for four painters who took a style from France and deployed it in the light of the Southern Hemisphere.