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The wizards of Oz inspired by the Impressionists

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In the morning, Alpes Maritimes from Antibes, 1890-1 
In the morning, Alpes Maritimes from Antibes, 1890-1  Credit: John Russell /National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

So much about Australia’s Impressionists, a new exhibition at the National Gallery, takes you by surprise.

For one thing, there is the shock of encountering Australian art on the walls of the National Gallery. The institution specialises, of course, in the grand tradition of European painting.

Yet, suddenly, up pops a substantial show, arranged in three parts in the Sunley Room, of no fewer than 41 paintings by four important 19th-century Australian artists: Charles Conder, Tom Roberts, John Russell, and Arthur Streeton.

Holiday Sketch at Cooge, 1888 Credit: Tom Roberts /Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 

All of them helped to define the country’s sense of its own identity in the run-up to national Federation in 1901. This is the first British exhibition to focus exclusively on their work.

There is also the matter of what their paintings depict. I entered the exhibition expecting epic pictures of the Aussie outback, filled with heroic stockmen, drovers and other macho forerunners...

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