Learning Art, A Fools Guide: Australian Impressionists

Do you like Art? Do you ‘get’ Art? Can you walk through a gallery and look at paintings and know what technique is used and why? Can you differentiate the eras from the style of the painting?

I can honestly say that up to about 3 months ago I just didn’t get Art. A visit to a gallery was the last thing on my list of things to do in life. Then all of a sudden I got the urge to know more about Art and to become someone that enjoys a trip around a gallery. So on the 28th January, I took myself to the National Gallery in London, paid to get an audio guide and spent about 5 hours walking around. Three months on I have been to the Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, a little bit round the Tate Modern and I think I like and ‘get’ Art.

Now, in my ever-curious nature, I want to learn more about the different eras, styles and painters. so before an exhibition closed I went back to where it all began to see the Australian Impressionists which focuses on the work of Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and John Russell.

Impressionism isn’t something I am very familiar with, all I knew before going to see this exhibit was that Van Gogh had something to do with it. I didn’t know what impressionism meant as a word and as a concept in Art. This happily leads to what I learnt about impressionism and in particular the Australian impressionists:

  1. Impressionism is a movement in painting that originates in France around 1860 and made its way over to Australia 1n the 1880’s.
  2. Impressionism is characterised by small thin brush strokes with the focus being on showing the movement of light, something the audio guide told me is prominent in all of the painting by Roberts, Conder, Streeton and Russell.
  3. Tom Roberts and Charles Conder would add in people once the painting was completed, sometimes years after completion, as a tribute to their friends and family.In Burke Street (below) Roberts added in the two ladies and the girl in the yellow dress years after finishing the piece.8f14d9c07ecaf04f2111d0c65fcadcb6
  4. In Conder’s piece A Holiday at Mentone (below) the lady in the forefront was added in once Conder was back in his studio.640px-Charles_Conder_-_A_holiday_at_Mentone_-_Google_Art_Project
  5. Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton were besties. They would go on painting holidays together and often sit and work on the same scene comparing each other’s work as they go.
  6. Arthur Streeton used his painting entitled Between the lights – Princes Bridge to make a statement about the fast transition between the old rural lifestyle and the fast approaching industrialism of Melbourne. Roughly 9 to 10 buildings were being built a week the year this painting was finished, 1858.
  7. Most paintings in this era were framed in a rectangular shape frame.In Roberts paiting, A Break Away as a square frame is used. The square canvas is used to create a sense of spontaneity and movement along with the criss-cross paint strokes. (Don’t I sound like an art fan!)
  8. John Russell did know the three other artists, however, he moved from Australia when he was 22 to France where he stayed pretty much for the rest of his life.
  9. Russell’s style is more of what classic impressionists practice and is heavily compared to the likes of Van Gogh. In his painting Aiguille de Conton, Belle-ile this is most apparent.
    Aiguille de Coton, Belle-lle, about 1890
    This isn’t my favourite and this may be a foolish view to have but I don’t find it very impressive. It just seems like a bunch of squiggles on a canvas, whereas some of the Roberts, Conder and Streeton paintings seem like more skill is needed.
  10. The indigenous people of Australia don’t feature in any of the artist’s works in the exhibition, however, Streeton and Roberts both worked on a few portraits for the indigenous population but these haven’t made it into their most famous pieces.

My personal favourite was The Purple Moons Transparent Might by Arthur Streeton, who as a whole was my favourite out of the artists showcased.


In person this painting is so a lot more impressive and although there may be so many technical reasons as to why it is a good painting for me it just causes a calm feeling and is by far the most beautiful.

Sadly the exhibition is no longer at the National Art Gallery, but you can see some of the artists work in the gallery.

The Australian Impressionists exhibition introduced me to another genre of art that I would never have paid attention to and I am glad it did as now I want to look further into the world of impressionism and continue to grow my knowledge of the movement. At the moment I’m not quite sure if it is my favourite movement in the Art world as I have so much more to discover and learn but it was a good start.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Jodie B. Sloan says:

    Come back to Australia and come to Brisbane and we shall art the afternoon awaaaayyy!

    Liked by 1 person

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