Australian Impressionists in France – Adventures in Art

E. Phillips Fox Australia 1865–1915, lived in France 1887–92, 1901–13 The green parasol 1912 oil on canvas 117.0 x 89.5 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Beautiful art might fall into the category of what we think of today as pretty and pleasing to the eye. It was at Paris however during the second half of the nineteenth century where artists wanted to study and be seen. A whole new group of artists were thinking beyond the formal boundaries and rules of formal art academies. Impressionist painters as they were called, turned their focus to recording people in pleasant places coming together to enjoy dancing, singing or a night at the opera or cabaret.

A new exhibition Australian Impressionists in France to be held at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Federation Square will commence on June 15th and be the perfect companion show to the splendid Monet’s Garden show already in full swing at the NGV International just down the road.

It will reveal how Australian artists abroad engaged in both personal and artistic exchanges on a global scale during late 19th and early 20th century.  The works will finally be on show alongside their heroes in art, just as they always imagined. Works will include those by John Russell, E. Phillips Fox, Charles Conder and Ethel Carrick hung alongside selected works by such French giants as Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard and others.

John Longstaff Australia 1861–1941, lived in Europe 1887–95, 1901–20 Self-portrait c.1891 oil on canvas 42.9 x 33.0 cm Shepparton Art Museum, Shepparton

The city of Paris overnight became a magnet for art students and artists from many of the provinces of France as well as those from far flung climes, all eager to experience for themselves the cosmopolitan delights of a city, which saw itself as one of the most ‘romantic’ in the world. They wanted to steep themselves in its artistic atmosphere and traditions.

Australian Impressionists in France will bring together over 130 paintings, prints, drawings and photographs from public and private collections in Australia and overseas.

The show will also include the first few decades of the 20th century to show how that art progressed, before and after World War I and will include works by such as Margaret Preston and Kathleen O’Connor,

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV said that “Australian Impressionists in France will challenge our understanding of what was ‘Australian’ art during these revolutionary decades” was all about.

A great many enthusiastic impressionable Australians were among those who went adventuring in art to Europe, seeking to work near to all those creating exciting new and lasting impressions. They also wanted to find themselves at the centre of what had become all-new international art scene.

Claude Monet is known to have demonstrated his Impressionist technique to John Russell; Charles Conder trawled the cabarets of Montmartre with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec; and Vincent Van Gogh who considered Russell a friend. In a world of six degrees of separation, they all either knew or were aware of each other’s work and artistic intent.

Tony Ellwood also commented that “… this exhibition will resonate with contemporary audiences, who today share similar experiences of overseas travel,” said Mr. Ellwood

John Russell Peonies and head of a woman (c. 1887) oil on canvas 40.7 x 65.0 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne - The Joseph Brown Collection

During the late 1880’s Australians E. Phillips Fox, Tudor St George Tucker and John Longstaff all studied in the French ateliers while Charles Condor produced major works during the 1890’s.

They were responding to both light and form with an all-new freshness that inspired others. They got caught up in the excitement of brilliantly capturing life indoors in a variety of special places or outdoors where nature ruled in all her spectacular glory. They wanted society to become forward thinking and brought forth works that were either dark or light, en grisaille or in full glorious rich sensuous colour.

The Ferry c1910-1911 oil on canvas by E Phillips Fox (1865-1916) courtesy Art Gallery of NSW

E Phillips Fox (1865-1915), became renowned for his images painted in Paris. They were all about being spontaneous, capturing the moment, the joy of life and revealing many of its secrets or truths. ‘The Ferry’ c1910 is considered his masterpiece and depicts a scene at Trouville, a favourite beach resort in the south of France. As we gaze upon its vibrant colours and delicious fabric textures we can immerse ourselves in a sumptuous image of a warm summer day peopled by the genteel society that existed prior to World War I. It leaves us with a lasting impression.

Ambrose Patterson born Australia 1877, lived in France 1898–1910, United States 1917–66, died United States 1966 Le bar, St Jacques, Paris c.1904 oil on canvas 48.2 x 59.7 cm Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

While this new modern impressionable movement was defined by scholars as having lasted some forty years the new philosophies abounding in the world of art during this new age of modernity, inspired and motivated many of them to help imagine the future.

Paris changed the view of the artists who visited and their art, influencing the works they produced forever.

Elena Taylor, Australian Art Curator, NGV said: “This exhibition will look at this most vital period of Australian art in a new way. For the first time, the work of the Australian artists will be considered within an international, rather than national context, allowing for a new understanding of their work and indeed of this period.”

Australian Impressionists in France

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

15 June – 6 October 2013

10am – 5pm. Closed Mondays
Entrance Fees Apply

Book Online

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

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