Friday, 26 July 2013

GUEST POST: Elizabeth Little explores Australian Impressionists in France

Ethel CARRICK, On the beach (c. 1911) 
oil on canvas, 37.8 x 45.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Herbert and Ivy Brookes Bequest, 1973
Australian Impressionists in France
National Gallery of Victoria Australia: June 15 - October 6, 2013

Australian Impressionists in France at the NGV Australia (Ian Potter) in Federation Square is undoubtedly a chance for the NGV to capitalise on the crowds attending the current Monet’s Garden at NGV International, drawing them in with that all important word buzz word: Impressionism.

Australian Impressionists in France is a comprehensive and undeniably beautiful exhibition, full of charming paintings. It traces the development of Australian art through artists who travelled to France  to study and live in the then capital of the art world, between 1880-1915. The exhibition includes works by both Australian and international artists, and argues that the Australians were interacting with the international avant garde in Paris. It complements the NGV’s 2007 exhibition Australian Impressionism which focused on the art being created within Australia. This time the focus is on those who travelled to France and painted images outside the national obsession with the Australian landscape.  
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. Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

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, Purchased, 1946 (NGA 46.13)

Some of the Australian artists in the exhibition will be familiar, including Charles Conder, Rupert Bunny, John Russell, Frederick McCubbin and E Phillips Fox; others will be new names but the style of art will be familiar. The aim of the exhibition is to show the extent of the Australian involvement with international art movements, and to this end it includes works by Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard and Auguste Rodin.  The best example of this interaction can be seen in the experiences and paintings of John Russell.

Russell was a young Sydney painter when he travelled to Paris in 1884 to further his studies. The exhibition includes a page of his drawings – head studies of a fellow student, who turned out to be Vincent van Gogh. Later in his time in France, Russell introduced himself to Claude Monet and was able to spend time with the older artist, watching him paint and learning directly from him. Later he befriended a young Henri Matisse, sharing with him Monet’s painting techniques.

The motifs of modern life are present in the Australian’s paintings – images of leisure, portraits of French peasants, the French countryside with its fields of flowers and haystacks, cityscapes of the newly Hausmann-ised Paris, cafes and bars.  There are gorgeous paintings of long sunny afternoons, markets full of fresh cut flowers, fields of flowers, dramatic coastlines, women in flowing frocks taking tea or lying in hammocks reading.

Charles Conder painted the dancers at the Moulin Rouge and the hay fields of rural France, Hans Heysen painted the city of Paris in winter, with snow on the streets, Russell drew inspiration from the seascapes and coastlines in his home of Belle-Ile.

Curator Elena Taylor has included several women artists, demonstrating that it wasn’t just the men who were travelling to Paris to further their artistic endeavours. These include Ethel Carrick Fox, Iso Rae, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Frances Hodgkins, Kathleen O’Connor, Margaret Preston and Bessie Gibson. Hilda Rix Nicholas also travelled further afield to Morocco. Marketplace, Tangier and Morocco, market place with pile of oranges record some of her experiences there. Ethel Carrick painted the flower markets in France in riotous high keyed colour and short impressionistic brush strokes.

One of the joys of such a comprehensive exhibition is the chance to see unfamiliar work by favourite artists, and to discover new ones. I was unaware of the American artist Frederick Frieseke, but quite taken with his paintings of sunny afternoons. Frieseke is quoted in wall text accompanying his 1911 painting Breakfast in the Garden as saying, “My subject is sunshine, flowers in sunshine, girls in sunshine, nudes in sunshine…” And for me that pretty much summed up the exhibition. I came out of it wanting to buy armloads of flowers, to sit in the sunshine in a café on a Parisian street and watch the modern world go by.

Elizabeth Little has a B. Art Theory (Hons)and M Art Admin, COFA UNSW. She lives and works in Sydney.

John Russell, Australia 1858–1930, lived in Europe 1881–1921
Rough sea, Morestil c.1900, oil on canvas on hardboard
66.0 x 81.8 cm, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Purchased, 1968 (OA14.1968)

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 , Gift of Mrs A. McCarthy Patterson, 1913 (0.404), © Ambrose Patterson Estate

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