Melbourne art critic Sidney Dickinson coined the term in a July 1891 review of works by Arthur Streeton and Walter Withers. He noted that these and other local artists, who painted en plein air in Heidelberg on the city's outskirts, could be considered members of the "Heidelberg School". The term has since evolved to cover painters who worked together at "artists' camps" around Melbourne and Sydney in the 1880s and 1890s. Along with Streeton and Withers, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Frederick McCubbin are considered key figures of the movement. Drawing on naturalist and impressionist ideas, they sought to capture Australian life, the bush, and the harsh sunlight that typifies the country.
The works of these artists are notable, not only for their merits as compositions, but as part of Australia's cultural heritage. The period leading up to Federation in 1901 saw an upsurge in Australian nationalism, and is the setting for many classic stories of Australian folklore, made famous in the works of bush poets associated with the Bulletin School, such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. The Heidelberg School's work provides a visual complement to these tales and their images have become icons of Australian art. The artists are well-represented in Australia's major public galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The name refers to the then rural area of Heidelberg east of Melbourne where practitioners of the style found their subject matter, though usage expanded to cover other Australian artists working in similar areas. The core group painted there on several occasions at "artist's camps" in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Besides Arthur Streeton and Walter Withers, other major artists in the movement included Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder. See below for a list of other associated artists.
In August 1889, several artists of the Heidelberg School staged the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition at Buxton's Rooms, Swanston Street, opposite the Melbourne Town Hall. The exhibition's three principal artists were Charles Conder, Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton, with minor contributions from Frederick McCubbin, National Gallery students R. E. Falls and Herbert Daly, and sculptor Charles Douglas Richardson, who exhibited five sculpted impressions. Most of the 183 works included in the exhibition were painted on wooden cigar-box lids, measuring 9 by 5 inches (23 × 13 cm), hence the name of the exhibition. Louis Abrahams, a member of the Box Hill artists' camp, sourced most of the lids from his family's tobacconist shop. In order to emphasise the small size of the paintings, they were displayed in broad Red Gum frames, some left unornamented, others decorated with verse and small sketches, giving the works an "unconventional, avant garde look". The Japonist décor featured Japanese screens, umbrellas, and vases with flowers that perfumed the gallery, while the influence of Whistler's Aestheticism was also evident in the harmony and "total effect" of the display.
The artists wrote in the catalogue:
An effect is only momentary: so an impressionist tries to find his place. Two half-hours are never alike, and he who tries to paint a sunset on two successive evenings, must be more or less painting from memory. So, in these works, it has been the object of the artists to render faithfully, and thus obtain first records of effects widely differing, and often of very fleeting character.
The exhibition caused a stir in Melbourne with many of the city's leading social, intellectual and political figures attending during its three-week run. The general public responded positively, and within two weeks of the exhibition's opening, most of the 9 by 5s had sold. The response from critics, however, was mixed. The most scathing review came from James Smith, then Australia's most prominent art critic, who said the 9 by 5s were "destitute of all sense of the beautiful" and "whatever influence [the exhibition] was likely to exercise could scarcely be otherwise than misleading and pernicious." The artists pinned the review to the entrance of the venue—attracting many more passing pedestrians to, in Streeton's words, "see the dreadful paintings"—and responded with a letter to the Editor of Smith's newspaper, The Argus. Described as a manifesto, the letter defends freedom of choice in subject and technique, concluding:
It is better to give our own idea than to get a merely superficial effect, which is apt to be a repetition of what others have done before us, and may shelter us in a safe mediocrity, which, while it will not attract condemnation, could never help towards the development of what we believe will be a great school of painting in Australia.
The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition is now regarded as a landmark event in Australian art history. Approximately one-third of the 9 by 5s are known to have survived, many of which are held in Australia's public collections, and have sold at auction for prices exceeding $1,000,000.
Opened at 9 Collins Street in April 1888, Grosvenor Chambers, built "expressly for occupation by artists", quickly became the focal point of Melbourne's art scene, and an urban base from which members of the Heidelberg School could meet the booming city's demand for portraits. Tom Roberts, Jane Sutherland and Clara Southern were the first to occupy studios in the building, and were soon followed by Charles Conder and Louis Abrahams.
Many of the artists decorated their studios in an 'Aesthetic' manner, showing the influence of James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Roberts' use of eucalypts and golden wattle as floral decorations started a fad for gum leaves in the home.
The presence of Roberts, Streeton and Conder at Grosvenor Chambers is reflected in the high number of urban views they included in the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition.
Roberts first visited Sydney in 1887. There, he met the young Conder, and a strong artistic friendship blossomed. The pair painted together at the beachside suburb of Coogee in early 1888 before Conder joined Roberts on his return trip to Melbourne.
When a severe economic depression hit Melbourne in 1890, Roberts and Streeton moved to Sydney, first setting up camp at Mosman Bay, a small cove of the harbour, before finally settling around the corner at Curlew Camp, which was accessible by the Mosman ferry. Other plen air painters occasionally joined them at Curlew, including prominent art teacher and Heidelberg School supporter Julian Ashton, who resided nearby at the Balmoral artists' camp. Ashton had earlier painted with Conder during the latter's Sydney days, and in 1890, as a trustee of the National Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, he encouraged the art museum to purchase Streeton's Heidelberg landscape ′Still glides the stream, and shall for ever glide′ (1890)—the first painting by the artist to enter a public gallery. The more sympathetic patronage shown by Ashton and others in Sydney inspired other Melbourne artists to join them.
The National Gallery of Victoria notes:
Sydney became Streeton's subject. The bravura of his crisp brushwork and his trademark blue, the blue that he had used at Heidelberg, were perfectly suited to registering images of the bustling activity on Sydney's blue harbour.
From Sydney, Streeton and Roberts branched out into country New South Wales, where, in the early 1890s, they painted some of their most celebrated works.
Like many of their contemporaries in Europe and North America, members of the Heidelberg School adopted a direct and impressionistic style of painting. They regularly painted landscapes en plein air, and sought to depict daily life. They showed a keen interest in the effects of lighting, and experimented with a variety of brushstroke techniques. Unlike the more radical approach of the French Impressionists, the Heidelberg School painters often maintained some degree of academic emphasis on form, clarity and composition. The latter group had little direct contact with the former; for example, it was not until 1907 that McCubbin saw their works in person, which is reflected in his evolution towards a looser, more abstracted style.
The Heidelberg School painters were not merely following an international trend, but "were interested in making paintings that looked distinctly Australian". Works of the Heidelberg School are generally viewed as some of the first in Western art to realistically and sensitively depict the Australian landscape as it actually exists. The works of many earlier colonial artists look more like European scenes and do not reflect Australia's harsh sunlight, earthier colours and distinctive vegetation.
Artists associated with the Heidelberg School include:
Writing in 1980, Australian artist and scholar Ian Burn described the Heidelberg School as "mediating the relation to the bush of most people growing up in Australia. ... Perhaps no other local imagery is so much a part of an Australian consciousness and ideological make-up." Their works are known to many Australians through reproductions, appearing in bars and motels, on stamps and as the covers of paperback copies of colonial literature. Heidelberg School artworks are among the most collectible in Australian art; in 1995, the National Gallery of Australia acquired Streeton's Golden Summer, Eaglemont (1889) from a private owner for $3.5 million, then a record price for an Australian painting. McCubbin's Bush Idyll (1893) briefly held the record price for a publicly auctioned Australian painting when it sold at Christie's in 1998 for $2.31 million.
The movement featured in the Australian citizenship test, overseen by former prime minister John Howard in 2007. Such references to history were removed the following year, instead focusing on "the commitments in the pledge rather than being a general knowledge quiz about Australia."
Many period films of the Australian New Wave drew upon the visual style and subject matter of the Heidelberg School. For Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), director Peter Weir studied the Heidelberg School as a basis for art direction, lighting, and composition. Sunday Too Far Away (1975), set on an outback sheep station, pays homage to Roberts' shearing works, to the extent that Shearing the Rams is recreated within the film. When shooting the landscape in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), cinematographer Ian Baker tried to "make every shot a Tom Roberts". The Getting of Wisdom (1977) and My Brilliant Career (1979) each found inspiration in the Heidelberg School; outback scenes in the latter allude directly to works by Streeton, such as The Selector's Hut.
The movement has been surveyed in major exhibitions, including the nationally touring Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond (1986), and Australian Impressionism (2007), held at the National Gallery of Victoria. The National Gallery in London hosted an exhibition titled Australia's Impressionists between December 2016 and March 2017, focusing on works by Streeton, Roberts, Conder and John Russell, an Australian impressionist based in Europe.
The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition was an art exhibition in Melbourne, Australia. The exhibition was opened on 17 August 1889 in Buxton's Rooms on Swanston Street and featured 183 works; the majority of which were painted by the Australian impressionists Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton. The exhibition was named for the dimensions of most of the paintings— 9 by 5 inches (23 cm × 13 cm), the size of a cigar box lid upon which many of the works were painted— and the Impressionist inspiration for the works.The exhibition created much lively commentary at the time and is now seen as a "celebrated event in Australian art history". 9 by 5s continue to appear on the market; in 2009, Conder's Centennial Choir at Sorrento (cat. 151) sold at Sotheby's for A$492,000. In 2012, to mark the 123rd anniversary of the exhibition, arts benefactor Max Carter donated four 9 by 5s (valued at over A$3,000,000) to the Art Gallery of South Australia, the largest group of 9 by 5s ever given to an Australian public institution.A holiday at Mentone
A holiday at Mentone is an 1888 painting by the Australian artist Charles Conder. The painting depicts a beach in the Melbourne suburb of Mentone on a bright and sunny day. Conder's depiction of people engaged in seaside activities and the brilliant noonday sunshine mark the painting as distinctively Australian in character.
The painting was first exhibited at Victorian Artists' Society Spring exhibition in November 1888, one month after Conder, aged only 20, arrived in Melbourne from Sydney. Conder had met Tom Roberts in Sydney the previous year and again at Easter 1888, where the pair had painted together at Coogee Beach. On arrival in Melbourne, Conder initially based himself at Roberts' Grosvenor Chambers studio and A Holiday at Mentone was Conder's first Melbourne painting. The work shows evidence of being influenced by Japanese art while a similar bridge motif was commonly used by the influential American painter James McNeil Whistler. One of Arthur Streeton's descendants suggested that Roberts is the figure in the grey suit on the pier and Streeton is the man lying down on the beach.Perhaps Conder's best known painting, A holiday at Mentone has been described as a "critically acclaimed masterpiece of the Australian Impressionist style of painting" and a "singularly Australian work". Terence Lane, senior curator of Australian Art at the National Gallery of Victoria described the painting's staging as "stilted, almost surreal" but the composition as "splendidly abstract and the sunshine brilliantly Australian".The painting is now part of the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia.Arthur Streeton
Sir Arthur Ernest Streeton (8 April 1867 – 1 September 1943) was an Australian landscape painter and leading member of the Heidelberg School, also known as Australian Impressionism.Box Hill artists' camp
The Box Hill artists' camp was a site in Box Hill, Victoria, Australia favoured for plein air painting in the late 1880s by a group of artists who were part of a movement that later became known as the Heidelberg School.
In the summer of 1885/86, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin set up a tent on the site near Damper Creek (now Gardiners Creek) on the property of David Houston, about a mile south of the railway station. At this time the area was relatively untouched bush.
Painting activities were carried out on weekends by the two artists over the next few years and at various times other artists would join them including Arthur Streeton, Louis Abrahams, Charles Conder, Jane Sutherland, Tom Humphrey and John Mather.
Works painted in and around the site include:
The artists' camp (Roberts, 1886)
A summer morning tiff (Roberts, 1886)
Lost (McCubbin, 1886)
Gathering mistletoe (McCubbin, 1886]
Obstruction (Sutherland, 1887)
Reconciliation (Roberts, 1887)
Settler's Camp (Streeton, 1888)
Pastoral (Streeton, 1888)
The way to school (Humphrey, 1888)
Orchard at Box Hill (Conder, 1888)
Down on His Luck (McCubbin 1889)The site is located within the now suburbanised area of Box Hill South and is commemorated by a cairn in Artists Park off Prince Street and nearby Roberts McCubbin Primary School.Charles Conder
Charles Edward Conder (24 October 1868 – 9 February 1909) was an English-born painter, lithographer and designer. He emigrated to Australia and was a key figure in the Heidelberg School, arguably the beginning of a distinctively Australian tradition in Western art.Clara Southern
Clara Southern (3 October 1861 – 15 December 1940) was an Australian artist associated with the Heidelberg School, also known as Australian Impressionism. She was active between the years 1883 and her death in 1940. Physically, Southern was tall with reddish fair hair, and was nicknamed 'Panther' because of her lithe beauty.David Davies (artist)
David Davies (21 May 1864 – 26 March 1939) was an Australian artist who was associated with the Heidelberg School, the first significant Western art movement in Australia.
Born and raised in Ballarat, Victoria, Davies attended art classes at the Ballarat School of Mines and Industries. Later one of his paintings, 'The Burden and Heat of the Day', was purchased by the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. Davies subsequently attended the National Gallery School in Melbourne studying under McCubbin and G.F. Folingsby from 1886 - 1890. During his time at the National Gallery Schools, he often visited Streeton at the old Mount Eagle estate farmhouse owned by Charles Davies, his future wife's brother, and it was here at the National Gallery School that James Oddie, the private collector who purchased and then later sold "The Burden and Heat of the Day" to the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, recognized Davies's skill after he was runner-up in the National Gallery School Travelling Scholarship.Between 1893 and 1897 Davies painted his chief examples that are now currently in the collections of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.Early in 1896, Davies and his family moved to Cheltenham, Melbourne.
Davies held a one-man exhibition in Melbourne in May 1926 which was reported to have been successful.In 1932 Davies moved to Looe, Cornwall, England, where he died on 26 March 1939.Frederick McCubbin
Frederick McCubbin (25 February 1855 – 20 December 1917) was an Australian artist and prominent member of the Heidelberg School art movement, also known as Australian Impressionism.Grosvenor Chambers
Grosvenor Chambers at number 9 Collins Street, Melbourne was Australia's first custom built complex of artist's studios.
It housed many famous Australian artists studios. Some artists who held studios there include, Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Clara Southern, Jane Sutherland, Charles Conder, E. Phillips Fox, John Longstaff, Max Meldrum, Mirka Mora, Albert Tucker and Wolfgang Sievers.
It was established in 1888 and held studios until the mid-1970s when all but the facade of the building was demolished for a high rise office building.Gordon De Lisle ( photographic artist ) was a studio resident at Grosvenor Chambers during the 1950s. Wolfgang Sievers ( photographer ), Mirka Mora and Albert Tucker were also in residence at this time.Heidelberg, Victoria
Heidelberg is a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 12 km north-east of Melbourne's central business district. Its local government area is the City of Banyule. In 2016, Heidelberg had a population of 6,225.Once a large town on Melbourne's outskirts, Heidelberg was absorbed into Melbourne as part of the latter's northward expansion after World War II. Heidelberg once had its own historic central business district including its own municipality in the former City of Heidelberg.
Heidelberg lends its name to the Heidelberg School, an impressionist art movement that developed in and around the town in the late 19th-century.Heidelberg Artists Trail
The Heidelberg Artists Trail is a self-drive, cycling and walking trail that includes a series of 57 explanatory signs and boards situated in locations frequented by artists of the Heidelberg School. The signs display reproductions and descriptions of some of the most famous paintings, and are popular with school groups who have an interest in the arts and the natural environment. The trail winds for approximately 40 km through much of Jagajaga, including the municipalities of Banyule, Nillumbik and Manningham, through to the Yarra Valley and the Dandenong Ranges.Heidelberg University Faculty of Law
The Heidelberg University Faculty of Law (also known as Heidelberg Law School), located in Heidelberg, Germany, is one of the original four constituent faculties of Heidelberg University. Founded in 1386 by Rupert I, Elector Palatine, it is the oldest law school in Germany. In recent years, the school was ranked between #24 and #36 globally by the QS World University Ranking by subjects.Jane Sutherland
Jane Sutherland (26 December 1853 - 25 July 1928) was an Australian landscape painter who was part of the pioneering plein-air movement in Australia, and a member of the Heidelberg School. Her advocacy to advance the professional standing of female artists during the late nineteenth century was also a notable achievement.Julian Ashton
Julian Rossi Ashton (27 January 1851 – 27 April 1942) was an English-born Australian artist and teacher. He is best known for founding the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney and encouraging Australian painters to capture local life and scenery en plein air, greatly influencing the impressionist Heidelberg School movement.
He was a principle organiser of the 1898 Exhibition of Australian Art in London, the first major exhibition of Australian art internationally.Leon Pole
Leon Pole (28 June 1871 – 31 December 1951) was an Australian artist who was associated with the Heidelberg School art movement, also known as Australian Impressionism.
Born in Adelaide, South Australia, Pole moved to Melbourne where, between in 1888 and 1892, he studied under Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. While still a student, Pole joined Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Tom Roberts and other members of the Heidelberg School at their artists' camp at Eaglemont, Heidelberg. In 1890, Pole joined Heidelberg School artist Walter Withers at Charterisville, where he remained for several years.Pole's best-known painting, The Village Laundress (1891), depicts a laundress and her two daughters walking across grassy paddocks in Templestowe with the sunlit Yarra Valley in the background, and shows the marked influence of Streeton's lyrical Heidelberg paintings, such as ′Still glides the stream, and shall for ever glide′ (1890). Reviewing The Village Laundress in 1932 for The Australasian, art critic Harold Herbert called it "a very charming and interesting picture", and said it "possesses a quality of faithful painting for the love of it, and a tenderness of colour that is very gratifying. No flashness, no blatancy, just a simple sincerity." He went on to compare its "quiet beauty" to the work of Heidelberg School artist David Davies. The painting sold at auction in 1987 for $210,000, regarded as a high price for a work by a relatively obscure Australian artist. It is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.
Pole was also an acclaimed muralist, caricaturist and "lightning sketcher", and, alongside artists such as Max Meldrum and brothers Lionel and Norman Lindsay, formed part of a bohemian group in Melbourne known as the Cannibal Club.Louis Abrahams (art patron)
Louis Abrahams (1852 – 2 December 1903) was a British-born Australian tobacconist, art patron, painter and etcher associated with the Heidelberg School art movement, also known as Australian Impressionism.
Born in London, England, Abrahams arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, as an eight-year-old with his family in 1860. Later that decade, Abrahams attended the Artisans School of Design in Carlton, where he met Frederick McCubbin. The pair formed a close friendship and later enrolled at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in 1871, where they founded a club to study the nude. McCubbin named his first son Louis after Abrahams, who reciprocated by naming his son Frederick. Both artists, along with fellow National Gallery student Tom Roberts, established the Box Hill artists' camp in 1885. Later accompanied by Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and others, the group sought to capture the Australian bush by painting it en plein air. By the time the group relocated to Mount Eagle estate (Eaglemont) near Heidelberg in 1888, Abrahams had less time for art due to the demands of the family cigar business. He still made trips to visit his friends at Eaglemont, and supplied them with many cigar-box lids for painting impressions. 183 of these cigar-box paintings were exhibited by Roberts, Streeton and Conder in the landmark 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition of 1889.Abrahams sat for some of McCubbin's best-known paintings, including Down on His Luck (1889) and A Bush Burial (1890), and he is the subject of portraits by McCubbin, Roberts, Streeton, Julian Ashton, John Mather and others. Due to his financial support of the Australian impressionists, Abrahams, along with his brother and business partner Lawrence, is regarded as an important patron of early Australian art.Abrahams suffered from depression and committed suicide in his St Kilda home on 2 December 1903. His personal art collection was passed down to his grandson, architect Sir Denys Lasdun, best-known for designing the Royal National Theatre complex on London's South Bank.One Summer Again
One Summer Again is a 1985 Australian docudrama miniseries about the painter Tom Roberts and the Heidelberg School art movement. Set in and around the city of Melbourne in the late 19th century, the film traces Roberts' career and his relationships with other members of the Heidelberg School, including Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and Frederick McCubbin. Their artists' camps are recreated in authentic bush settings, which one critic described as having "the soft warmth of a McCubbin painting". Film sets true to the period are contrasted with shots of contemporary Melbourne.
The title comes from a letter Conder sent to Roberts, longing for the time they spent painting together at Heidelberg: "Give me one summer again, with yourself and Streeton, the same long evenings, songs, dirty plates, and last pink skies. But these things don't happen, do they? And what's gone is over."Tom Roberts
Thomas William "Tom" Roberts (8 March 1856 – 14 September 1931) was an English-born Australian artist and a key member of the Heidelberg School, also known as Australian Impressionism. After attending art schools in Melbourne, he travelled to Europe in 1881 to further his training, and returned home in 1885, "primed with whatever was the latest in art". He did much to promote en plein air painting and encouraged other artists to capture the national life of Australia. While he is best known for his "national narratives", among them Shearing the Rams (1890), A break away! (1891) and Bailed Up (1895), he also achieved renown as a portraitist.Walter Withers
Walter Herbert Withers (22 October 1854 — 13 October 1914) was an English-born Australian landscape artist and a member of the Heidelberg School of Australian impressionists.