Heidelberg School 1886 – 1900

Group of artists active in the late 19th century in Heidelberg, a suburb of Melbourne, who introduced plein-air Impressionism to Australia The most important members were Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder

The Heidelberg School was an Australian art movement of the late 19th century The movement has latterly been described as Australian Impressionism

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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 emerging sense of 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 Many of their most significant works are held 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

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