Despite the excited nationalism of this time, Europe still beckoned Australian artists as the centre of Western art. A pilgrimage to Europe was considered a rite of passage for many Australians. London and Paris were two of the most fashionable destinations, attracting artists from all over the world. Young artists were encouraged by teachers, patrons and colleagues to further their study in Paris, and senior artists also left Australia to establish themselves within a much larger market.
Figure compositions and portraiture dominated the art scene within which most Australians sought acceptance. Mastering the human form was the major focus of the Academies, and from the turn of the century, portraiture and aesthetic figure studies had replaced history painting as the prominent genre accepted into the large prestigious annual exhibitions of the Old and New Paris Salons and the Royal Academy in London.
Expatriate Australians were predominately influenced by the society portraits and sophisticated figure paintings of artists such as London based American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Expatriate painters also looked to the art of the past, stimulated by the rich collections of European art museums. The works of seventeenth-century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez, in particular, had achieved a cult-like following, inspiring numerous homages and quotations.