She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism, NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism is a large-scale exhibition of more than 250 artworks drawn from major public and private collections around Australia, including the NGV Collection. Featuring some of the most widely recognisable and celebrated works by Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Jane Sutherland, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Clara Southern, John Russell and E. Phillips Fox, the exhibition also brings to light lesser-known paintings by Iso Rae, May Vale, Jane Price and Ina Gregory. She-Oak and Sunlight presents these works in new and surprising contexts, exploring the impact of personal relationships, international influences and the importance of place on the trajectory of the movement.

Highlights from the exhibition include Tom Roberts’s iconic Shearing the rams, 1890, which depicts sheep shearers plying their trade in a timber shearing shed, and Clara Southern’s An old bee farm, Warrandyte, c.1900, a nostalgic vision of the landscape, painted in a soft palette of twilight tones. Following a complex conservation treatment, visitors are also able to appreciate the newly vivid colours of the Hawkesbury River as depicted in Arthur Streeton’s The purple noon’s transparent might, 1896.

Shearing the rams (1890), Tom Roberts.  National Gallery of Melbourne, Victoria
Clara Southern, Australia 1860-1940, An old bee farm, c.1900. Oil on canvas, 69.1 × 112.4 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1942
The purple noon’s transparent might’ (1896), Arthur Streeton. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

She-Oak and Sunlight charts the creative exchanges between the movement’s leading figures in Australia, by presenting artworks in thought provoking groups and pairings. The exhibition also considers the broader global context, personal relationships and artistic synergies of Australian Impressionists and those working internationally, by juxtaposing Australian artworks with more than 50 works from the groundbreaking ‘9 by 5 Impression Exhibition’ held in Melbourne in 1889, and named after the cigar box lids on which many of the works were painted.

Catalogue cover of ‘The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition’, 1889, by Charles Conder. Picture: National Gallery of Victoria

In the winter of 1889, Roberts and his young friends, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder, determined to present an exhibition of ‘Impressions’ in Melbourne at Buxton’s Rooms in Swanston Street, a prominent venue located opposite the Town Hall.

When developing this plan, the artists were clearly influenced by Whistler, whose London exhibitions were renowned for being conceived as ‘total works of art’. Whistler coordinated every aspect, from the harmonious décor and framing of the works, to the specially designed catalogues, and all these features were adopted in the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition

Dandenongs from Heidelberg, by Charles Conder, c.1889. Picture: Art Gallery of South Australia
The national game, by Arthur Streeton, 1889 Picture: Art Gallery of NSW
The road up the hill, by Arthur Streeton, c.1889. Picture: Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art

At Buxton’s, these small works of art were strikingly displayed in wide timber frames, many of them stained, or embellished with metallic paint or decoration. The room itself was elegantly furnished in the Aesthetic style with silk draperies and Japanese accessories creating what one contemporary described as a most harmonious arrangement of colour’

Whistler’s flair for publicity was also copied – a series of articles and press interviews tantalised Melbourne’s public with promises that at last it would have an opportunity of judging for itself what Impressionism truly is’. (Excerpted from Small Pictures, Big Legacy: The 9 x 5 Exhibition Then and now. Pursuit, 15 June 2017).

Installation view of She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne. Photograph: Tom Ross/NGV Australia
Installation view of She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne. Photograph: Tom Ross/NGV Australia

Works by Monet, Sisley and Whistler from the NGV’s collection are also on view, highlighting the influence of European artists of the late 19th century on their Australian contemporaries. 

She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism is guest curated by Dr Anne Gray AM with the NGV Australian Art Department.

Visit the Exhibition

Press and References:


Publisher: National Gallery of Victoria and
Thames & Hudson Australia
290 x 230 mm (portrait), 306 pages,
hardback bound in printed Wibalin
ISBN: 9781760761905
Category: Impressionist art, Australian art
RRP: $59.99
Publication date: April 2021

Australia’s Impressionists

Riopelle, Christopher; Bonyhady, Tim; Goudie, Allison; Taylor, Alex J.; Thomas, Sarah

Published by National Gallery London (2017)

ISBN 10: 1857096126 ISBN 13: 9781857096125

Sunlight and Shadow: Australian Impressionist Painters, 1880-1900

Astbury, Leigh;Phipps, Jennifer

Published by Bay Books, Palo Alto, California, U.S.A.(1989)

ISBN 10: 1862562954 ISBN 13: 9781862562950

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