World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Heidelberg School

Article Id: WHEBN0000340546
Reproduction Date:

Title: Heidelberg School  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of Australian artists, Arts in Australia, Culture of Australia, Impressionism, History of Australia (1851–1900)
Collection: Heidelberg School, Impressionism, Melbourne Culture, Victorian Era
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Heidelberg School

The Heidelberg School was an Australian art movement of the late 19th century. The movement has latterly been described as Australian Impressionism.[1]

The term was coined in July 1891 by Melbourne critic Sidney Dickinson, reviewing the works of local artists Arthur Streeton and Walter Withers. Dickinson noted that these artists, who painted en plein air in the Heidelberg area, could be considered as the "Heidelberg School". Since that time, the term has taken on a wider meaning and covers Melbourne and Sydney artists of the late nineteenth century who were inspired by the broader impressionist movement. Along with Streeton and Withers, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Frederick McCubbin are considered key figures of the Heidelberg School. 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 historical record. The period leading up to Federation 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 Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson. The Heidelberg School's work provides a visual complement to these tales and their images have embedded themselves into Australia's historical subconscious. Many of the artworks can be seen in Australian galleries, notably the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of Ballarat.


  • History 1
    • 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition 1.1
  • Influences and style 2
  • Associated artists 3
  • Locations 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Gallery 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External resources 10


The name refers to the then rural area of Heidelberg east of Melbourne where practitioners of the style found their subject matter, though usage expanded to cover other Australian artists working in similar areas. The core group painted there on several occasions at "artist's camps" in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Besides Arthur Streeton and Walter Withers, other major artists in the movement included Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder.[2] See below for a list of other associated artists.

9 by 5 Impression Exhibition

Buxton's Rooms, Swanston Street in Melbourne, site of the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition

In August 1889, several artists of the Heidelberg School staged the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition at Buxton's Rooms, Swanston Street, opposite the Melbourne Town Hall. The exhibition's three principal artists were Charles Conder, Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton, with minor contributions from Frederick McCubbin, National Gallery students R. E. Falls and Herbert Daly, and sculptor Charles Douglas Richardson, who exhibited five sculpted impressions. Most of the 183 works included in the exhibition were painted on wooden cigar-box panels, measuring 9 by 5 inches (23 × 13 cm), hence the name of the exhibition. Louis Abrahams scrounged most of the panels from his family's tobacconist shop. The works were displayed in broad Red Gum frames, some left unornamented, others decorated with verse and small sketches, giving the works an "unconventional, avant garde look".[3] The artists wrote in the catalogue:

Conder's Impressionists' Camp (1889), shown in the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, depicts Roberts (seated) and Streeton (standing) in the homestead at Eaglemont. On the wall is Streeton's first impression for Golden Summer, Eaglemont, also shown in the exhibition.
An effect is only momentary: so an impressionist tries to find his place. Two half-hours are never alike, and he who tries to paint a sunset on two successive evenings, must be more or less painting from memory. So, in these works, it has been the object of the artists to render faithfully, and thus obtain first records of effects widely differing, and often of very fleeting character.

The exhibition was a hit with the public with all of the works finding a buyer. The response from critics, however, was mixed. The most scathing review came from leading critic James Smith, who said the 9 by 5s were "destitute of all sense of the beautiful" and "whatever influence [the exhibition] was likely to exercise could scarcely be otherwise than misleading and pernicious."[4] The artists pasted up the review outside the entrance of the venue—attracting many more passing pedestrians—and responded with a letter to the Editor of Smith's newspaper, The Argus. Described as a manifesto, the letter defends freedom of choice in subject and technique, concluding:

It is better to give our own idea than to get a merely superficial effect, which is apt to be a repetition of what others have done before us, and may shelter us in a safe mediocrity, which, while it will not attract condemnation, could never help towards the development of what we believe will be a great school of painting in Australia.[5]

The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition is now regarded as a landmark event in Australian art history.[6] Approximately one-third of the 9 by 5s are known to have survived, many of which are held in Australia's public collections.

Influences and style

The Australian bush, a major influence and central subject matter for the Heidelberg School artists.

The School's artists were clearly influenced by the international Impressionist movement, and took up many of the concepts of the group. They regularly painted plein air landscapes, as well as using art to depict daily life. They showed a keen interest in the instantaneous effects of lighting, and experimented with a variety of brushstroke techniques. McCubbin in particular used the small, contrasting blocks of strong colour that were a trademark of some Impressionist work.

These artists should not be viewed as merely copying an international trend. Works of the Heidelberg school are generally viewed as some of the first Western art to realistically and sensitively depict the Australian landscape as it actually exists. Many earlier works look like European scenes and do not reflect the harsh sunlight, earthier colours, and distinctive vegetation of the land they painted.

Associated artists

Artists associated with the Heidelberg School include:[2]


David Davies spent much of the 1890s painting in Templestowe. Moonrise (1894) belongs to his nocturnal series.
Arthur Streeton, ‘The Purple Noon's Transparent Might’ (1896), painted on the Hawkesbury River


The Heidelberg tradition dominated Australian landscape painting well into the 20th century, as evidenced by the popularity of artists such as Elioth Gruner (pictured: Spring Frost, 1918).

Writing in 1980, Australian artist and scholar Ian Burn described the Heidelberg School as "mediating the relation to the bush of most people growing up in Australia. ... Perhaps no other local imagery is so much a part of an Australian consciousness and ideological make-up."[7] The movement was included in the Australian citizenship test, overseen by former prime minister John Howard in 2007. Such references to history were removed the following year, instead focusing on "the commitments in the pledge rather than being a general knowledge quiz about Australia."[8]

Many period films of the Australian New Wave drew upon the visual style and subject matter of the Heidelberg School.[9] For Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), director Peter Weir studied the Heidelberg School as a basis for art direction, lighting, and composition.[10] Sunday Too Far Away (1975), set on an outback sheep station, pays homage to Roberts' shearing works, to the extent that Shearing the Rams is recreated within the film. When shooting the landscape in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), cinematographer Ian Baker tried to "make every shot a Tom Roberts".[11] The Getting of Wisdom (1977) and My Brilliant Career (1979) each found inspiration in the Heidelberg School;[9] outback scenes in the latter allude directly to works by Streeton, such as The Selector's Hut.[12]

The Heidelberg School is examined in One Summer Again, a three-part docudrama that first aired on ABC television in 1985. Tom Roberts' career, and his relationships with other members of the Heidelberg School, form the basis of the story. The artists' camps are recreated in authentic bush settings, which one critic described as having "the soft warmth of a McCubbin painting".[13] Film sets true to the period are contrasted with shots of contemporary Melbourne. The cast includes John Wood, Michele Fawdon, John Lee, Joan Sydney and Nina Landis.


See also



  1. ^ "Introduction to Australian Impressionism". Australian Impressionism. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Heidelberg Artists Trail
  3. ^ Lane, Australian Impressionism, p. 159
  4. ^ Smith, James. "An Impressionist Exhibition". The Argus. 17 August 1889.
  5. ^ Conder, Charles; Roberts, Tom; Streeton, Arthur. "Concerning 'Impressions' in Painting". The Argus. 3 September 1889.
  6. ^ Moore, William (1934). The Story of Australian Art. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. ISBN 0-207-14284-X. p. 74
  7. ^ Burn, Ian. "Beating About the Bush: The Landscapes of the Heidelberg School". In Bradley, Anthony; Smith, Terry. Australian Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press, 1980. ISBN 0195505883, p. 83–98
  8. ^ Anderson, Laura (22 November 2008). "Sporting focus taken off citizenship test", Herald Sun. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  9. ^ a b Gray, Anne (ed.) Australian Art in the National Gallery of Australia. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2002. ISBN 0642541426, p. 12
  10. ^ Rayner, Jonathan. The Films of Peter Weir. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003. ISBN 0826419089, pp. 70–71
  11. ^ Reynolds, Henry. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Sydney: Currency Press, 2008. ISBN 0868198242, p. 66
  12. ^ Elliot, Bonnie. "My Brilliant Career", World Cinema Directory. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  13. ^ Walsh, Geraldine (22 July 1985). "The Heidelberg School has a spell at Brideshead", The Sydney Morning Herald.

Further reading

  • Astbury, Leigh (1985). City Bushmen: The Heidelberg School and the Rural Mythology.  
  • Finlay, Eleanor; Morgan, Marjorie Jean (2007). Prelude to Heidelberg: The Artists' Camp at Box Hill. MM Publishing/City of Whitehorse.  
  • Hammond, Victoria; Peers, Juliette (1992). Completing the Picture: Women Artists and the Heidelberg Era. Artmoves.  
  • Lane, Terence (2007). Australian Impressionism.  
  • Splatt, William (1989). The Heidelberg School: The Golden Summer of Australian Painting. Viking O'Neil.  
  • Topliss, Helen (1984). The Artists' Camps: Plein Air Painting in Melbourne 1885-1898. Monash University Gallery.  

External resources

  • In the Artist's Footsteps
  • Heidelberg Artists Trail
  • Heidelberg School - The Encyclopedia of Melbourne Online
  • Heidelberg School - Stories from Australia's Culture Portal
  • National Gallery of Victoria: Australian Impressionism Education Resource
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.