Shedding light on Australian impressionism

She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism at NGV sheds light on celebrated works

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See Australian impressionists in a new light at NGV exhibition featuring 270 artworks.


Last year one of the Australian art world's most intriguing mysteries was finally solved.

A Frederick McCubbin masterpiece, lost for more than a century, was discovered in October hiding in plain sight under one of the National Gallery of Victoria's most popular artworks.

A staff member at the museum found the 1892 work, called Found, under the artist's classic 1904 painting The Pioneer.

Now McCubbin's The Pioneer will be one of 270 artworks on display at the NGV's exhibition She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism at The Ian Potter Centre in Melbourne's Federation Square.

Visitors to the exhibition will also have the opportunity to piece together the multi-layered history of this work.

The earlier painting, Found, depicts a bushman holding the limp body of a girl in a heavily vegetated landscape.

The large-scale exhibition features artworks drawn from major public and private collections around Australia, including the NGV Collection.

It also comprises some of the most widely recognisable and celebrated works by Tom Roberts, Jane Sutherland, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Clara Southern, John Russell and E Phillips Fox, as well as bringing to light works by Iso Rae, May Vale, Jane Price and Ina Gregory.

Other highlights include Roberts' Shearing the rams, 1890, which depicts sheep shearers plying their trade in a timber shearing shed, and Clara Southern's An old bee farm, Warrandyte c.1900, a nostalgic vision of the landscape, painted in a soft palette of twilight tones.

Following a complex conservation treatment, visitors will also be able to appreciate the newly vivid colours of the Hawkesbury River as depicted in Arthur Streeton's The purple noon's transparent might, 1896, which will also be on display.

Demonstrating the multifaceted nature of this much-loved movement, She-Oak and Sunlight will reveal the many forms of Impressionism in Australia, including painting the landscape outdoors en plein air ('in the open air') and the rich legacy of the artists camps at Heidelberg.

The exhibition will also present more than 50 works from the landmark 1889, 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, which takes its name from the dimensions of the cigar box lids upon which many of the works were painted.

The exhibition will also reveal the broader global context, personal relationships and artistic synergies between Australian impressionists and those working internationally by juxtaposing Australian artworks alongside those by Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and others drawn from the NGV Collection.

The NGV's recent major acquisitions will be on display, including Tom Roberts's She-oak and sunlight, 1889, first exhibited in the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition and acquired by the NGV in 2019, and Young girl, Étaples, c. 1892, by Iso Rae, acquired in 2020.

NGV Director, Tony Ellwood, said She-Oak and Sunlight draws on the rich legacy established by the NGV's previous Australian impressionism exhibitions, as well as proffering new research and discoveries that have only recently come to light.

"The exhibition will address the truly revolutionary nature of the movement, as well as the social and cultural contexts that defined this period of rapid change and transformation in Australian art history.'

She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism runs until August 22 at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Fed Square, Melbourne. Further information is available via the NGV website.