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Australian art Expatriates, Federation Landscapes & Symbolism

The period of considerable social and economic change, from 1900 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, was a time when many Australian artists chose to live and work abroad in order to train and exhibit in the wider artistic arena of Europe. They studied the Old Masters and were influenced by their compositions and use of drawing, tone and colour. They paid homage to their predecessors and regarded themselves as part of a continuing tradition, often using quotations from others' works to add layers of meaning to their own. They adopted ideas of Aestheticism and Japonisme, and were influenced by the bold colours, strong designs and stylised gestures of the BalletsRusses. Exposure to the work of their international contemporaries in London and Paris gave Australian expatriate artists a sense of being part of a larger community of creative people, and they often joined British and French artists working out of doors in painting camps.

The separate colonies of Australia became a Federation of six states in 1901. Leading up to that time and over the following decade or so many Australian artists expressed a new sense of nationalism in their work, mostly in landscapes portraying Australia as a pastoral paradise. Contrasting with earlier visions of the landscape as a bad facsimiles of European vistas or as an ugly and alienating place, after the centenary of European settlement in 1888 a new attitude sees the unique flora and fauna more faithfully and lovingly represented. Frederick McCubbin in Victoria, and Hans Heysen in South Australia, were the leading landscape artists working in Australia in the years following Federation. Another who made an important contribution to the developing tradition of Australian landscape painting, the Hobart-born WC Piguenit, in Sydney from 1880, continued to paint both mountain scenes and broader, more open landscapes into the new century.

Around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries many Australian artists and writers used sensual imagery and symbolist themes in their work, taking inspiration from poetry, music and philosophy, and using mythological or allegorical subject matter. The Art Nouveau movement incorporated graceful curves and organic lines into highly stylised works. Sydney Long was the leading proponent of the Art Nouveau approach in Australia, with the Gallery housing the favourite painting The Spirit of the plains, along with many etchings, drypoints and watercolours.