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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Impressions

Painting light and life

Previous exhibition
from Friday 25 November 2011 until Sunday 4 March 2012

Impressions: Painting light and life presents portraits by, and of, artists at the heart of Australian impressionism including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin.

Tea time, c.1898–1902 by Rupert Bunny (1864–1947)
Tea time, c.1898–1902 by Rupert Bunny (1864–1947)

Featuring well-loved icons of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Australian art, as well as rarely-exhibited works drawn from public and private collections, the summer show offers a gorgeous glimpse into the world of a group of people to whom art was life itself.

At what point does an artist’s ‘impression’ of colour, light and form become a work sufficiently finished to show to someone else? At what point does an ‘impression’ of a certain look on a certain face become a portrait of a person? At what point do we forget to admire the way an artist has painted, and see, suddenly, in a whole new way, because of the way they have shown us to look?

These are some of the questions invited by the portraits in Impressions: Painting light and life. Most of the works in the exhibition were made between 1885 and 1910. There are many by the outstanding portraitist of the period, Tom Roberts; the largest and most striking was made by the brilliant, short–lived Hugh Ramsay. In between fall paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures by Bertram Mackennal, Rupert Bunny, Charles Conder, Arthur Streeton, Emanuel Phillips Fox and George Lambert, made in and around Melbourne, London and Paris. The lives of all the artists represented in the exhibition intersected and crossed over as they attended classes, formed clubs and societies, exhibited and took painting trips together; as they made the eight-week sea voyages between Australia and Europe; as they sought the conviviality and sympathy of their compatriots abroad; and as they made portraits of each other.

78 portraits

1 The red rose, 1886 , by George Walton (1855–1890). 2 Priscilla, 1886 by George Walton (1855–1890). 3 Blue and gold: portrait of Dorothy Sutherland, 1908 by Jane Sutherland (1853–1928).

Related information

The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904

Beguiling impressions

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2012

Sarah Engledow is seduced by the portraits and the connections between the artists and their subjects in the exhibition Impressions: Painting light and life.

Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong)
Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong)
Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong)
Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong)

An actress and her fans

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2008

Dr. Sarah Engledow discovers the amazing life of Ms. Hilda Spong, little remembered star of the stage, who was captured in a portrait by Tom Roberts.

Sir Macfarlane Burnet
Sir Macfarlane Burnet
Sir Macfarlane Burnet
Sir Macfarlane Burnet

Picture this...

Magazine article by Andrew Sayers AM, 2003

This edited version of a speech by Andrew Sayers examines some of the antecedents of the National Portrait Gallery and set out the ideas behind the modern Gallery and its collection.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency