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Studying the Moderns - Australians in France and England in the early 1900s

Andrea Hope,  2023 


"The Australian artist within the limits to which [they] usually confine themselves, reveals a sense of colour, an eye for affect, and an appreciation of the brightly beautiful that would of themselves redeem any work from being altogether commonplace. The reason why the greatest things are seldom attempted is to be found, partially at any rate, in the attitude of the Australian public. The local market for expensive and elaborate productions of an artistic kind is strictly limited. The man or woman who is confident of ability to produce the very finest work gravitates naturally to the arts centres of the old world. Everything invites [them] to try [their] fortune where rivalry is keenest, where instruction is of the best, where appreciative patrons are most numerous, where prizes are richest and most plentiful." 

Western Australian, October, 1905

After training at the National Gallery School in Victoria,  Julian Ashton School in Sydney,  Brisbane Technical College, South Australian School of Art, Perth Technical College or elsewhere (including with private tutors), many young Australian artists travelled overseas to study and paint from the early 1900s. 

Partially this was to study with respected teachers at schools and studios to learn the latest techniques, partly to take part in exhibitions with recognised international artists and potentially sell their artwork,  and also to absorb and take part in the rich cultural life which was so different to xxx.

Exposure to quality international art had been limited within Australia.


Typically, purchases made by colonial art galleries as they opened in Australia in the late 1800s were traditional English paintings, often lesser works or 'copies',  as well as plaster casts of sculptures. This was in keeping with the galleries trustees intention to xxx

Artists gained access to developments in the art world overseas through several exhibitions - for example The Anglo-Australian Society of Artists held exhibitions in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide in 1880s and 1890s and the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition from 1888-89. 

The Melbourne International Exhibition 1880.PNG

Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition 1888-9

National Gallery School, Melbourne

perth gallery_edited.jpg

Ernest Lund Mitchell, Western Australian Art Gallery, 1913 (detail)

The English art journal The Studio was an important source of inspiration for  Australian artists in the 1890s. The journal was considered to be a reputable and respected arbiter of taste around the turn of the century through to about 1918, and would have encouraged artists to visit England to view works shown in the magazine. The Australian magazine Art in Australia was published biannually between 1916 and 1942 and published articles about overseas xx as well as colour and black and white reproductions. 

Various teachers at art schools, and exhibitors in local exhibitions, also drew on their overseas experience to inform and educate local artists.

For example, from the late 1800s, artists such as Julian Ashton, Alfred Daplyn, Florence Fuller, Arthur Loureiro, Emma Minnie Boyd, Tom Roberts, David Davies, John Longstaff, Emanuel Phillips Fox, and Tudor St. George Tucker had been travelling and working overseas.  Their focus had primarily been on Realism and Naturalism, which influenced Australian Impressionism and then Federation art in particular. 

Florence Fuller, Weary, 1888.png.jpg

Florence Fuller, Weary, 1888.

Arthur Loureiro, The Forest at Fontainebleau, 1882.jpg

Arthur Loureiro, The Forest at Fontainebleau, 1882

However, around the turn of the century art styles were changing dramatically in Europe. Artists were experimenting with Post Impressionism, Symbolism, German Expressionism, Fauvism and Cubism - all Modernist forms of art. 

Paris was at the cutting edge of Modernism, up until the second world war, with artists travelling from other (mainly European) countries to form what became loosely known as the École de Paris - or the School of Paris.

Modernist styles were also being adopted in England, which was also the home of the arts and crafts movement, with a focus on decorative arts and Art Nouveau. 

Gabriel Munter portrait of a young lady 1909.PNG

Gabriel Munter,  Portrait of a Young Lady,  1909

Paul Cézanne, Sous-bois (Wood), 1900–02.jpg

Paul Cézanne, Sous-bois (Wood), 1900–02

It's not surprising then that many Australian artists would want to tour England and the continent, and while there, study and learn as much as they could, depending on their financial situation.  Some took short journeys, others returned time and time again, and several spent many years overseas.

The list of Australian artists in the UK and France in the early part of the 20th Century is quite extensive, and includes;


Iso Rae, Agnes Goodsir, Marie Tuck, Bessie Gibson, Dora Meeson, Alice Muskett, Ethel Carrick, Ada May Plante, Margaret Preston, Kathleen O'Conner, Anne Alison Green, Bessie Davidson, Jessie Traill, Gladys Reynell, Vida Lahey, Mary Cockburn Mercer, Janet Cumbrae Stewart, Hilda Rex Nicholas, Ann Dangar, Evelyn Chapman, Grace Cowley, Dorrit Black, Stella Bowen, Madge Freeman, Constance Stokes, Moya Drying, Betty Quelhurst, Margaret Olley, Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton, Emanuel Phillips Fox, Ethel Spowers, Eveline Syme, Max Meldrum, Thea Proctor, George Lambert, Violet Teague, Charles Conder,  Rupert Bunny, George Bell, Horace Brodzky, Ivan Brooks, Charles Bryant, Arthur Burgess,  Robert  Campbell, Hilda Cholmondeley, Isaac Cohen, Archibald Colquhoun, Joseph Connor, Antonio Dattilo Rubbo, Mary Degen, William Dobell, Douglas Dundas, John Eldershaw, Albert Hanson, Clewin Harcourt, Weaver Hawkins, Hans Heysen, George Hyde-Pownall, Derwent Lees, Richard Hayley Lever, Kenneth MacQueen, James Quinin, James Quinn, Hugh Ramsay, Lloyd Rees, Norah Simpson, Helen Stewart, Bess Tait, Dorathea Toovey, Roland Wakelin, John Watkins, Leslie Wilkie, Blamire Young, Bertha Merfield, Edith Alsop, Rah Fizelle, Daphne Mayo, Charles Wheeler,  Will Ashton, Fred Leist, George Coates,  Will Dyson, Ruby Lindsay, 

How did these artists make the most of the opportunities overseas? Aside from taking formal lessons at acadamies and schools, artists worked closely with teachers, respected artists and friends at a range of ateliers or studios. The joined art societies and clubs and exhibited with local artists. Like many before them. they copied works in art museums. Many travelled throughout several countries to visit musuems which held work by artists they admired, and some joined artist colonies or summer schools for a period of time. They mixed socially with local and international (and other expatriate) artists, often living in close proximity to cultural hubs, such as Montmartre and Montparnasse in Paris and Chelsea in London. 

Artists developed and explored new styles of art - not only painting, but also printmaking, sculpture, fabric design xxx. While some remained relatively true to traditional styles or Impressionism others embraced modernism, playing with forms and colours. 

Very few works by local artists were considered suitable for exhibition and artists made their sales through commercial galleries, private exhibitions and commissions.  Artists also xx book illustrations,  drawings for the illustrated press, cartoons and etchings. Indeed the black-and-white work, especially for the Bulletin, the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, and the Sydney Mail,

Schools/ exhib in London Royal Academy and the Society of Portrait Painters; at the Society of Portrait Painters,  Grosvenor School of Modern Art 1925 mainly printmaking flight, London at the Polytechnic School of Art, Regent Street, and the Westminster School of Art, Central School of Arts and Crafts. Modern Society of Portrait Painters in London george bell

New English Arts Club and Chelsea art club

The clubs functioned as a meeting space where they could engage in a stimulating artistic environment and gain introductions to leading figures in the art world. For those artists who chose England, London’s arts clubs played a large role, for it was in these establishments that they discussed, exhibited, shared, and met with their English counterparts. The club environment in London had a significant impact on male Australian artists as it offered a space where they were integrated into the English art world which enhanced their experience whilst abroad and influenced the direction of their art.

The London Savage Club attracted many Australian expatriates. Not only is it the grandfather of London’s bohemian clubs but also it was the model for arts clubs the world over. Founded in 1857, the qualification for admission was (and still is) to be, “a working man in literature or art, and a good fellow” (Williams)

Chelsea Art Club

Chelsea was the artistic centre of London around the turn of the 20th century, and  so much so that it was known as a Latin quarter. There were numerous studios in the area and in 1890 a group of artists formed the Chelsea Art Club.

It was agreed that the club; 

Should be called the Chelsea Art Club,

Should consist of professional architects engravers painters and sculptors, and

Should aim to advance the cause of art by means of exhibitions, life classes and other kindred means and promote social intercourse amongst its members. 2

Along with Streeton and Roberts, joined the Chelsea Arts Club. They included, John Longstaff (1861–1941), James Quinn (1869–1951), George Coates (1869–1930), and Will Dyson (1880–1938), along with Sydney artists Henry Fullwood (1863–1930), George Lambert (1873–1930), and Will Ashton (1881–1963). The Chelsea Arts Club also served as a venue for artists to entertain and host distinguished visitors from home

In late 1902, Streeton wrote to fellow artist and Savage Club member Tom Roberts (1856–1931) from London:

I belong to the Chelsea Arts Club now, & meet the artists – MacKennel says it’s about the most artistic club (speaking in the real sense) in England. … They all seem to be here – McKennal, Longstaff, Mahony, Fullwood, Norman, Minns, Fox, Plataganet Tudor St. George Tucker, Quinn, Coates, Bunny, Alston, K, Sonny Pole, other minor lights and your old friend and admirer Smike – within 100 yards of here – there must be 30 different studios. (Streeton 94) (Williams)

Coates and Meeson established themselves in Chelsea where they became members of an extensive circle of Australian expatriate artists. - coates didn't responded to developments in art after impressionism


London became a popular choice for artists to study at the  Royal Academy or the Slade School, which admitted both women and men. Both Newlyn and St Ives were popular in Cornwall, which for the most part had a strong focus on Realist art, or Naturalism.

Paris at the turn of the century, and largely up until the second world war, was at the cutting edge of Modernism, with artists travelling from other (mainly European) countries to form what became loosely known as the École de Paris - or the School of Paris. For some unknown reason, even though Australian artists mixed and studied with xxx they are not mentioned in literature about the École. 

Académie Julian in Paris, to Cormon’s, to Jean Paul Lauren’s;

Focusing on conventional subjects such as portraiture, figure studies, landscapes, cityscapes, and still lifes, artists of the School of Paris employed a diversity of styles and techniques including the bold, dynamic colors of Fauvism, the revolutionary methods of Cubism, the animated qualities of Expressionism, and the private worlds of Symbolism.

Montmartre was abuzz with cafés, cabarets, and artists’ studios, with a large number of painters including Renoir, Utrillo, Dufy, Picasso, Dalí, Mondrian, Monet, Pissarro, van Gogh, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Modigliani associated with the area. After the outbreak of World War I, however, many of the artists left the neighborhood and decamped to the Montparnasse quarter on the left bank. Whereas the artists of Montmartre had associated together more on the basis of status rather than artistic taste, those in Montparnasse were more of an economically and socially homogeneous group, comprised of penniless emigrant artists from around the world who flocked to Montparnasse for the cheap rent and the creative atmosphere, often selling their works to buy enough food to eat and spending hours in the cafés and bars of the area. The Montparnasse group included at various times Léger, Picasso, Apollinaire, Cocteau, Chagall, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Modigliani, Ezra Pound, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Duchamp, Gris, Giacometti, Breton, Samuel Beckett, Miró, and many others. Dabbling in cubism, futurism, expressionism, and realism, among other styles, these artists are today often grouped loosely under the “School of Paris” umbrella.

Paul Cézanne, Dish of Apples, ca. 1875–77

Lucie Cousturier, Nature Morte, 1900

Grace Cossington Smith

1) Western Australian, October, 1905

2) Chelsea Arts Club

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11 , 1988 Biography - Grace Cossington Smith -        (

Williams, G. H. (2016). Australian Artists Abroad. M/C Journal, 19(5).

3)Deborah Hart (ed), Grace Cossington Smith, National Gallery of Australia, 2005, p10

4)Deborah Hart (ed), Grace Cossington Smith, National Gallery of Australia, 2005, p11     slade school fauvist armory show     slade school paris new york     slade travelling scholarship   slade france  slade   slade us   slade paris   bess norris slade paris  locations in montparnasse  locations in montmartre  locations montparnasse - list of artists to review - art clubs in London

Emma Minnie Boyd, Corner of a Dining room
Emma Minnie Boyd A Bush Camp
Emma Minnie Boyd In Lucerne
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