Luminous: Australian Watercolours 1900-2000 – NGV Australia

Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack Story of a Shell 1940

Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack born Germany 1893, arrived Australia 1940, died 1965 Story of a shell 1940 watercolour over pencil 27.7 x 27.4 cm irreg. Gift of Mrs Olive Hirschfeld, 1971 (P75-1971) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Gift of Mrs Olive Hirschfeld, 1971 © Courtesy of the artist’s estate

At NGV Australia, until August 21, 2016 in The Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square, Melbourne, a new exhibition Luminous: Australian Watercolours 1900-2000 now on display, features over eighty watercolours and gouaches painted by some fifty artists.

Recording impressions with nature’s pigments suspended in a water based solution is an ancient art that has evolved since the days of cave painting in Europe.

Australian artists abroad engaged in both personal and artistic exchanges on a global scale during late nineteenth and early twentieth century, embracing the use of watercolour as a challenge.

Tony Ellwood, Director, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), said the exhibition ‘… presents a unique opportunity to study the medium in depth, observe the range of techniques and styles that develop over the course of the century, and be inspired by the diversity of works in the collection.’

Hans Heysen, William Blamire Young, Arthur Streeton Albert Namatjira, Sydney Nolan, Joy Hester, Fred Williams and John Brack are just some of the most well-known artists whose works always attract attention.

William Blamire Young. When the horse team came to Walhalla. 1910From traditional landscapes to abstract and contemporary art, the exhibition will seek to reveal the enduring popularity and appeal of the watercolour genre.

It was certainly an important aspect in the formation of the traditional view of the so-called ‘Australian character’. Designer of the first Australian postage stamp, William Blamire Young (1862-1935) was born in glorious Yorkshire in England, so one could imagine he would have had to be a down to earth lad.

He came back and forth from England before becoming art advertising manager to the Austral Cycle Agency in Melbourne, where he painted large watercolour scenes of Melbourne’s pioneering days.

Donald Friend

Donald FRIEND Autumn still life 1984 watercolour 56.3 x 77.6 cm (image and sheet) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Gift of Ralph Ward-Ambler AM and Barbara Ward-Ambler through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2010 2010.496 © Donald Friend/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

Young’s life waxed lyrically between Melbourne in Australia and Britain where he fought for his homeland in World War I. His first one-man show was held in Melbourne in 1909,  followed by others in Melbourne (1910), Adelaide and Melbourne (1911) and Sydney and Melbourne (1912).

By the time he went home again to England in December 1912, Young was well known in the Australian art world: his watercolours had been hung in several State galleries.

Returning to Australia again, he became an art critic fore the Melbourne Herald in 1929-1934 and supported the call for ‘modern art’, warning other artists against ‘sacrificing conviction for fashion’. The exhibition features works by such modernists as Frank Hinder and Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack, who emerged at a time when artists were experimenting with new technologies.

They provide an insight into the tension and trauma of the years leading up to, during and the aftermath of The Great War (1914-1918).

Frank Hinder Australia 1906–92, lived in United States 1927–34 Cyclists, Canberra 1945

Frank Hinder, Australia 1906–92, lived in United States, 1927–34, Cyclists, Canberra 1945, watercolour and tempera on paper on card, 51.4 x 70.8 cm, Purchased, 1947 (1797-4) © Enid Hawkins, daughter of the artist

It would be hard not to respond to Hinder’s Cyclists, a stunning study of dynamic symmetry, which he believed is…concerned with the actual living movement you get in growth.

Naturalism, Semi-abstraction and Abstraction were all concepts that Hinder embraced in his art, which ranged from intricately-observed lizard or frogmouth to patterns of the cosmos.

Fred Williams Horseman in the landscape

Fred Williams, Australia 1927–82, lived in England 1951–56, Horseman in the landscape 1967 gouache, 57.0 x 76.8 cm, Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the H. J. Heinz II Charitable and Family Trust, Governor, and the Utah Foundation, Fellow, 1980 (AC4-1980) © Estate of Fred Williams

Twentieth century Australian artists Tony Tuckson, Gunther Christmann and Robert Jacks also explored the medium while expressing their thoughts with variations of geometric form.

Tony Tuckson who was considered the authoritative Australian exponent of abstract expressionism, was a spitfire pilot during World War II and on leave in Sydney married an Australian girl, settling in Australia on the north shore of Sydney when the war was over.

He began exhibiting with the Society of Artists and the Contemporary Art Society of Australia, becoming enthused by Aboriginal art from Arnham Land.

He claimed he was only a ‘Sunday painter’, but soon became recognized as probably Australia’s best Abstract Expressionist, contributing much to the art heritage of Australia before passing in 1973.

The selection of contemporary works reflects the diversity of innovative approaches by such artists as Juan Davila, Jon Cattapan, Gareth Sansom, John Wolseley and Lesley Dumbrell.

Albert TUCKER. Self-portrait. 1945

Albert Tucker, Australia 1914–99, lived in Europe and United States 1947–60 (Self-portrait) 1945, charcoal, brush and ink and wash 20.2 x 29.2 cm courtesy National Gallery of Victoria, Purchased, 1980 (P3-1980) © Courtesy of Barbara Tucker

They have produced innovative and unexpected results, mainly due to the range of mediums available today within the genre.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

John Russell Australia Paraggio 1912

John Russell, Australia 1858–1930, lived in Europe 1881–1921, Paraggio 1912 watercolour over pencil, 28.5 x 39.5 cm, Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the Government of Victoria, 1979 (A68-1980) courtesy National Gallery of Victoria

Luminous: Australian Watercolours 1900-2000
NGV Australia,

May 7 – August 21, 2016

The Ian Potter Centre,
Federation Square,


The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly-illustrated publication featuring insightful essays by exhibition curators Cathy Leahy and Petra Kayser and additional contributions from NGV curators and art historians and a range of public programs will provide visitors with insights into the works and artistic processes of Australian watercolourists. Luminous: Australian Watercolours 1900-2000NGV Australia, FREE ENTRY

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