PREVIEW: Australia’s Impressionists, National Gallery

Opening in December, Australia’s Impressionists will be the first exhibition in the UK to focus on the topic, including 41 paintings.


In the morning, Alpes Maritimes from Antibes, 1890-1
In the morning, Alpes Maritimes from Antibes, 1890-1, John Russell. (c)National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Featuring 41 paintings, including many important pieces which haven’t been seen in the UK before, the exhibition will allow visitors to discover what impact the European Impressionism had on Australian painting of the 1880s and 1890s.

Australia’s Impressionists will focus on the work of four major Australian Impressionists: Tom Roberts (1856–1931), Arthur Streeton (1867–1943), Charles Conder (1868–1909), and John Russell (1858–1930), revealing how their work epitomised a growing sense of national identity as Australia approached Federation in 1901.

All of the artists who feature in the display either studied or worked in Europe at some point in their career and were inspired by their counterparts including Whistler and Monet.

Organised into three sections, the exhibition also explores the artists’ working relationships and styles as well as how far from or to the European tradition they worked.

The first section will be titled Urban Australia and the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition and will features the landmark 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition held in 1889 in Melbourne, which was considered to be one of the significant art exhibitions ever to be mounted in Australia. This section will feature a number of iconic paintings that show the rapidly changing landscapes of Melbourne and Sydney.

Meanwhile, the second section will concentrate on the National Landscape. Australian Impressionism hit its stride in 1888 at the time of the centenary of the European settlement of the Australian continent. With a growing sense of national identity came a desire to authentically represent the great Australian landscape and in particular, the light.

The final section will explore the work of John Russell who, despite his connections to some of the most important artists of his time, rarely exhibited and was only rediscovered as ‘Australia’s lost Impressionist’ in the second half of the 20th century.

Christopher Riopelle, National Gallery Curator of Post-1800 Paintings said, “Australia’s Impressionist painters were doing more than just recording familiar visual phenomena. They were actually inventing a way for Australians to see this vast and various land, its suddenly teeming cities, and the abrupt new intersections of nature and the man-made.” 

The inspiration for Australia’s Impressionists came as the result of the National Gallery receiving the long-term loan of Blue Pacific (1890, Private collection) by Arthur Streeton in 2015. This was the first painting by an Australian artist to be displayed at the National Gallery.

Australia’s Impressionists will be on display at the National Gallery from the 7th December until the 26th March 2017. For more information and to book tickets visit:

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