The History of Australian Art

A painting by John Lewin of a Platypus in 1808 - photo by Wikimedia Commons

Australian art is referred to as any art concerning or made in Australia or created by the Australians who are residing abroad, right from the ancient periods till today. This comprises of sculptors, photographers, printmakers, the early 20th century painters, Atelier, Landscape, Colonial, and Indigenous powered by European modernism, Modern art.

In Australia, the illustration arts have a long history, with proof of Indigenous art which dated as far back 30,000 years. When it comes to Australian art, it was recorded that the country has produced a lot of famous artists of both the Indigenous and Western Australian schools.

Australian Art in the Colonial Era

Plate 2 of Australian Lepidoptera and Transformations by Helena Scott – photo by Encore Editions

The period of early Western art in Australia was from 1788 beyond, and it was frequently regarded and described as the steady move from a European sense of light to an Australian one. It was revealed that the lighting in Australia at that time was particularly different from that of Europe, while early attempts at landscapes tried to reveal this.

In addition, it has been one of transformation, where artistic thoughts originating from far-off got new meaning and intention when relocated to the new continent and the up-and-coming society.

The British Exploration and Settlement of 1770 to 1850

A kangaroo by Sydney Parkinson (engraved later). This kangaroo was seen at Endeavour River on 23 June 1770. – photo by Botanical Art and Artists

There were British discovery and eventual settlement in Australia from 1770 to 1850. The foremost artistic representations of the Australia scene by European artists at this period were generally natural history illustrations, portraying the unique fauna and flora of the land for scientific functions, and the landscape of the coast.

Sydney Parkinson made a huge number of such drawings under the direction, guidance and supervision of Joseph Banks, who was a naturalist. Quite a lot of these drawings were met with cynicism when they were taken back to Europe. For instance, there were claims that the platypus was a trick. The 1772 paintings of The Kongouro were like copies, resemblance and productions of the earliest images of Australian fauna to be distributed extensively in Britain.

There was no specialised natural history artist who was competent in sailing on the earliest fleet in 1788, in spite of suggestions from an artist. All the drawings of the colony were fashioned and created by soldiers and condemned artists, until the turn of the century. Nevertheless, a lot of these drawings were nameless or anonymous, particularly of the Port Jackson Painter. A good number were in the naval draughtsmanship technique, and cover natural history topics, most especially birds, and a few described the tot colony itself.

John Gould Noddy Tern, Anous Stolidus Australian bird print – photo by Antique Print Club

John Lewin, who was an artist that arrived in Australia in the year 1800, was the foremost resident expert artist and the one who published two volumes of natural history art of Australia. In another development, John Gould was popular and renowned for his illustrations of Australia birds.

Harriet and Helena Scott were extremely appreciated and cherished natural history illustrators just at the very tail end of 19th century when the platypus of Lewin stands for the excellent detail and systematic observation displayed by a lot of these early painters.

It is also noteworthy that John Glover was the most significant landscape artist of this period. His works captured distinctive Australian features of open blue hills, fallen logs, and open country.

Apsley Falls by Conrad Martens, 1874 – photo by Art Gallery NSW | NSW Government

Also, from 1801 to 1878, Conrad Martens worked from 1835 to 1878 as a specialised artist, who was engaged in painting a lot of landscapes and was commercially doing well. His work has been considered as mitigating the landscape to go well with the European sensibilities.

Moreover, his watercolour studies were highly appreciated and considered incorporating idealistic standards and principles into his paintings. In addition, Martens is fondly remembered for going with scientist Charles Darwin.

Australian Impressionists (1885 to 1900)

Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), Coogee Bay 1907 – photo by Sotheby’s Australia

The genesis of a clearly Australian painting tradition was regularly linked with the Heidelberg School of the late 19th century. Named after a camp Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts founded in Heidelberg, these painters and Charles Conder and Frederick McCubbin, others started a generalised plain air technique to the Australian landscape that was left entrenched in the popular consciousness of Australia, both in and outside the world of art.

The Australia Art Market

The boom and out of action cycle in modern art is obvious and visible in the 1980s, colonial art boom finishing at the time of 1987 stock market crash and the exit of a lot of dealers and artists and dealers, followed by the 2000s boom in Aboriginal painting and Australian late modernist painting, which stopped at the time of the worldwide financial catastrophe and growing collector and public interest in the international modern art circuit.

There was a rediscovery of colonial art auction in 2014 and 2015. Reasonable 20th-century rustic landscape painting is afloat. The overstated northern hemisphere art markets expected a huge improvement in the Australia art market which moved to the middle market. Socially oriented art events like biennials and art fairs have continued to develop in size and fame in the modern art scene.