In the 1860s, Impressionism started in France by artists such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. They shared an interest in painting ordinary scenes from life and landscapes, rather than historical or mythological subjects favoured by the French Painting Academy.
Impressionism was based on painting ‘en plein air,’ a French term for outdoors. These artists ventured into the countryside to paint from nature, in direct sunlight. They rejected the perfectionism of studio painting in favour of visible brushstrokes and looser delivery of paint to emphasise the changing qualities of light. This made their paintings lighter, brighter and looser than other paintings of the time. As French Impressionism gained attention, it swept across the world, influencing other artists to work in similar ways.
From 1891, Australian Impressionism has often been referred to as the ‘Heidelberg School’, named after one of the artist painting locations or ‘camps’ outside of Melbourne. In reality, the artists did not strictly belong to a school; rather they shared close friendships and painted together at these artist camps around Sydney and Melbourne over several years.
The group including artists like Tom Roberts, Fredrick McCubbin, Charles Conder, Arthur Streeton and A.H. Fullwood. In the artist camps, they painted outdoors to capture the different qualities of Australian sunlight. Unlike the soft, gentle light of the Northern European landscape, these artists depicted the shimmering heat, dazzling glare and dusty haze so typical of an Australian summer.
However, most of their images depict a white colonialist viewpoint and feature white males as the main characters in these scenes. In reality, the agricultural worker population consisted of many unpaid aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers. Similarly, women were often excluded from these images. Where women were included, they are reduced to secondary figures of action, shown in traditional roles relating to family and homemaking. Though in real life, many Australian women in the nineteenth century (1800’s) were challenging traditional roles in society with the Australian women’s suffrage movement, which allowed women to vote and to stand as candidates in state elections.
Watch the below video for inspiration on how to paint an impressionist painting. Suitable for primary aged children.