Heidelberg School

From Academic Kids

The Heidelberg School was an Australian art movement of the late 19th century.

The name refers to the then rural area near Melbourne where practitioners of the style found their subjects, 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 1880's and early 1890's.

The term was coined in 1891 by local art critic Sidney Dickenson, reviewing the works of Arthur Streeton and Walter Withers. Other major artists in the movement included Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder.

The School's artists were clearly influenced by the international Impressionism 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, constrasting blocks of strong colour that was a trademark of some Impressionist work. However, 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 is. Many earlier works look like European scenes and do not reflect the harsh sunlight, earthier colours, and distinctive vegetation of the land they painted.

The works of these artists are notable, not only for their merits as compositions, but as part of Australia's historical record. The period immediately before Federation is the setting for many classic Australian historical stories of the "bush", both fact and fiction. The School's work provides a visual complement to these tales and their images have embedded themselves into Australia's historical subconscious.

Whilst Heidelberg has long since been absorbed into greater Melbourne, some of the scenes depicted in the most famous works of the school were of scenes on the floodplain of the Yarra River and are thus still recognizable. A walking trail along the Yarra River in the area shows selected works at the places where they were painted.

Many of the actual artworks can be seen in Australian galleries, notably the National Gallery of Victoria and the National Gallery of Australia.

See also

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