Australian Impressionism

The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia helped to establish the iconography of Australian impressionism, often also identified as the Heidelberg School.

These terms refer to a group of likeminded artists during the 1880s and 1890s, who, under the influence of the impressionist movement in Paris were focused on producing paintings of the Australian bush and cities as they actually appeared.

Artists in this movement worked en plein air. This French term, which means ‘in the open air’, related to a form of painting that was widespread in Britain and France during the 1870s and the 1880s, and involved developing a close familiarity with nature, everyday subjects and locations.

They also painted and sketched from artists’ camps on the bushy fringes of Sydney and Melbourne.

Despite their black-and-white work being seen as world class, the artists of the Atlas are less well known contributors to the Australian impressionist movement than such figures as Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder.

Activities

The Great Outdoors

Ask students to investigate the technical advances that made outdoor painting possible.

They should then work to identify the visual conventions of the Australian impressionists and their philosophy of painting en plein air. These may include light, space, colour, composition, subject matter, etc.

Ask students to select an artist associated with the Australian impressionist movement and create an artwork in the same style.