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Australian Impressionism

Charles Conder Quiet beach 1887-88

Charles Conder, England/Australia 1868–1909 | Quiet beach 1887-88 | Oil on wood | Purchased 1952. Maria Therese Treweeke Bequest | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Still glides the stream and shall forever glide

Arthur Streeton, Australia 1867-1943 | Sketch for 'Still glides the stream and shall forever glide' 1895 | Oil on cedar panel | Gift of Lady Trout 1978 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Installation view

Installation view

Currently on display | Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries | Queensland Art Gallery (QAG)

In 1885, three young artists – Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts and Louis Abrahams – set up a camp at Box Hill, in what is now suburban Melbourne, to paint and talk about art. They shared an interest in French Impressionism, advocated painting outdoors (en plein air), and sought to capture fleeting atmospheric effects in their oil sketches. Arthur Streeton and the young English artist Charles Conder soon joined them. Affecting a bohemian attitude and seeking to connect with nature, the group made excursions to Mentone and other beaches in Port Phillip Bay. Camps were also located at Eaglemont and Heidelberg, which was at the time an outlying area of Melbourne, and the place which gave the group its name.

The Heidelberg artists defined a new direction for Australian art, drawing on familiar landscapes, glimpses of urban life, and even nationalistic sentiment, all of which provided nourishment for an Australian school of painting. They frequently painted quick impressions in the field, sometimes on the lids of cigar boxes (which measured approximately nine by five inches) and on small panels of wood. In 1889, they showed these paintings in the controversial ‘9 x 5 Impression Exhibition’, the first self-consciously avant-garde exhibition to be held in Australia. The scale and sketchy quality of their paintings revealed a new intimacy between artist and subject, and attracted a degree of criticism. In their defence, the artists stated:

Any effect of nature which moves us strongly by its beauty, whether strong or vague in its drawing, defined or indefinite in its light, rare or ordinary in colour, is worthy of our best efforts.

Walter Withers joined the Heidelberg artists after the ‘9 x 5’ exhibition and, following the group’s dissolution in 1890, continued to live in the Heidelberg area, his presence attracting new artists to the district.

Collection Highlights 

Charles Conder Quiet beach 1887-88

The artists of the Heidelberg School frequently painted on cigar box lids (approximately nine by five inches) and other small wooden panels, which enabled them to record quick impressions in the field. In 1889 they showed a selection of these paintings in the controversial ‘9 x 5 Impression Exhibition’, the first self-consciously avant-garde exhibition to be held in Australia. The scale and sketchy quality of these paintings attracted some criticism. In their defence, the artists stated:

Any effect of nature which moves us strongly by its beauty, whether strong or vague in its drawing, defined or indefinite in its light, rare or ordinary in colour, is worthy of our best efforts.

Arthur Streeton Sketch for ‘Still glides the stream and shall forever glide’ 1895

Sketch for 'Still glides the stream and shall forever glide’ was apparently a preparatory study for the major oil painting purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1890, the first work by Streeton to enter a public collection. Curiously, however, the Queensland Art Gallery’s work is dated five years later. The artist may have brought the sketch up to a more finished quality in an attempt to sell it when he was fundraising for his trip to Europe in 1897. The scene depicted is the Yarra River as it meanders through the pasture lands near Heidelberg. 

For Streeton, the Australian landscape evoked the kinds of emotions he experienced when reading poetry. The title is drawn from a postscript to William Wordsworth’s Sonnets from the River Duddon 1820, which follows the river from its source to the sea. The grand themes of nature, love and time explored by English Romantic poets are expressed here:

I thought of Thee, my partner and my guide,
As being pass'd away.—Vain sympathies!
For, backward, Duddon! as I cast my eyes,
I see what was, and is, and will abide;
Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide;
The Form remains, the Function never dies . . .

Of Interest 

The Queensland Art Gallery houses a significant collection of Australian paintings, sculptures, decorative art objects, and works on paper. Find more information on these selected Collection highlights | Indigenous Australian Art | Queensland Heritage | Australian Art to 1975

Search the Queensland Art Gallery's Collection online for works by Arthur Streeton, Elioth Gruner, Frederick McCubbin, Girolamo Nerli, Walter Withers, Tom Roberts and Charles Conder | Collection Search