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Studying the Moderns - Australian artists in France and England 1890 - 1940

this article is still under construction - please check back in August 2024

Andrea Hope,  2024


"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

From the late 1800s many Australian artists travelled to Europe and England to study art – some for short periods and others settling there for most of their lives.

They were exposed to numerous traditional, contemporary and emerging artistic styles, and most chose their own way, not necessarily conforming to what they saw and experienced, but rather adapting composition, colours and techniques to the development of their own work. For example, artists like Tom Roberts returned from England in the mid 1880s with a nationalistic approach to painting light filled paintings outdoors, Peter John Russell influenced Henri Matisse with his use colour on the coast of France, and printmakers such as Dorrit Black returned to Australia, incorporating the modern styles of cubism and futurism into their teaching. They painted landscapes, seascapes, city and country life, figures, portraits and interiors. It was a time when Australian artists sought to find their own voice, without the restrictions they may have faced in submitting works to a conservative Australian audience.

Studying art in Australia in the late 1800s

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the key art schools in Australia were the National Gallery School in Victoria, the Julian Ashton School in Sydney, the Brisbane Technical College, South Australian School of Art and the Perth Technical College.

Generally training in these schools was traditional, naturalistic and representational, based on 19th Century conventions of academic training in Europe. However, there was a growing interest in painting 'en plein air' (outdoors) with the subject matter reflecting the developing interest in nationalism as Australia moved towards Federation.



H.P. Gill in the lecture room of the school of Design, Adelaide, 1905

National Gallery Art School, Melbourne. c.1901-1906. Jessie Traill (top right), Janet Cumbrae Stewart (top, fourth from right), Constance Jenkins (bottom right), Norah Gurdon, (bottom, second from right), Janet Cumbrae Stewart

Julian Ashton was one teacher who was a strong advocate of plein air painting. (He was to open his own school, Academy Julian, in Sydney – drawing on the Académie Julian in Paris where he’d studied briefly in 1874.)


Artists in Australia became increasingly aware of broader international developments art through several avenues; local artists travelling overseas, training by international teachers, exhibitions which included artwork by overseas artists, magazines and newspapers. 

However, Bernard Hall, who was the longest-serving director of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the head of the Gallery Art School from 1892 until his death in 1935, wielded enormous influence over local taste-making and the building of national art collections (largely through the Felton bequest). Hall had been trained in Britain and then Germany, and was committed to the classical academic tradition and 'instituted an austere regime of painting' . Nonetheless, he initiated a shift away from sentimental paintings towards decorative figure compositions and a sense of 'art for art’s sake', with a more textured and broader handling of paint, but he had no interest in supporting modernist painting techniques. His approach limited options for development for students at this major art school.


Hall's early students included Hugh Ramsay, George Bell, Max Meldrum, Violet Teague and Rose MacPherson (Margaret Preston), all of whom were to later travel overseas.

Exposure to British and European art in the late 1800s

Artists in Australia became increasingly aware of broader international developments art through several avenues which included: local artists travelling overseas; training by international teachers; exhibitions which included artwork by overseas artists; books, magazines and newspapers; and reproductions of artwork sent from overseas. 

Artists such as Julian Ashton, Alfred Daplyn, Arthur Loureiro, Emma Minnie Boyd, Tom Roberts, Elizabeth Parsons, David Davies, John Longstaff, Emanuel Phillips Fox, and Tudor St. George Tucker all travelled overseas for short periods around 1880 - 90. Their destination was predominantly London and Cornwall and 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

Tom Roberts, A Quiet Day on the Darebin Creek, 1885

Arthur Loureiro, The Forest at Fontainebleau, 1882.jpg

Arthur Loureiro, The Forest at Fontainebleau, 1882

They brought back with them new approaches to painting which informed and educated a new generation of artists, but their experience predated Modernism.

The National Gallery Travelling Scholarship, which first awarded in 1887, was designed to enable the most talented students at the Gallery’s School to complete their art training abroad.  The Scholarship was to be awarded 'to the best work exhibited by students at the National Gallery art classes' although in 1898 the terms of the award expanded to allow students from outside to be considered, although only under 'certain conditions'.

Although the terms of the award dictated that at least one original canvas and two Old Master copies from each recipient which would be added to the Melbourne collection, it did provide them with a stipend of £150 per year, for three years, to travel and study in the 'principal art centres of Europe'[i].



It was first awarded to John Longstaff in 1887, with Constance Lillian Jenkins being the first woman to receive it, in 1908. Figure study was the preferred subject matter, although this wasn’t stated explicitly in the rules. Although the scholarship didn’t encourage artists to develop new forms of artistic expression, it did provide them with access to overseas developments.


George Lambert was the first artist to be awarded the NSW Society of Artists’ Travelling Scholarship in 1900.

Numerous Immigrant teachers travelled to Australian throughout the 1800s. For example, an important teacher was Italian artist Girolamo Nerli. Nerli studied in Florence and was an advocate of painting outdoors. After travelling to Melbourne in 1885, and then later Sydney, he influenced Australian Impression with his free brushwork and often sketcherly approach. He later travelled to New Zealand where he taught Frances Hodgkins, who in turn was to teach Australian artists in Paris in the early 1900s.

Hodgkins also exhibited her modernist art in both Sydney and Melbourne, in xxx where her work was critically acclaimed.

French sisters Berthe Mouchette and Marie Lion came to Australia in 1881 and provided private classes in art in Melbourne and later Adelaide (with their students including Margaret Preston, who later taught Bessie Davidson in Adelaide, before they travelled together to Paris). The sisters had exhibited at the Paris Salon and were amongst the first teachers to enable women to study life drawing with nude models.

South African born Florence Fuller (1867 – 1946) arrived in Perth in 1904, after working for some years in Europe and exhibiting at the Paris Salon and Royal Academy of London. She was to have a strong influence on artists such as Kathleen O’Connor, who was encouraged to travel overseas herself in 1906.

Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo conducted an art school in Sydney for some forty-three years from 1897, having arrived in Sydney from Italy the previous year. He quickly established himself and taught many of the leading Australian modernists, including Norah Simpson, Grace Cossington-Smith, Tempe Manning, Donald Friend, Alice Danciger, Mary Webb, Frank Hinder, James Cant and Gerald and Margo Lewers[i].


[i] Rex Butler and A.D.S. Donaldson, French, Floral and Female: A History of UnAustralian Art 1900-1930 (part 1) p9

Several major exhibitions featuring overseas artists were held towards the end of the century, 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. ​

In the Introduction to the first Anglo-Australian Society of Artists exhibition it was stated that;

"The Council of selection and invitation secured over 200 works from leading artists of the Royal Academy the Royal Society of painters in water colours, the Royal Institute of painters in watercolours, the Royal Society of British artists, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Hibernian Academy, and the new English Arts Club."

The Melbourne International Exhibition 1880.PNG

Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition 1888-9

However, unsurprisingly, the exhibitions prior to the 1900s contained many traditional artworks, including portraits, landscapes and seascapes.

Publications from overseas, and then from within Australia, were an important part of art education.

The English art journal The Studio was a useful source of information for Australian artists from the late 1890s. The magazine included articles on art and exhibitions in England, as well as in France, and numerous colour and black and white prints. Occasionally it featured information about Australian artists working in England, such as George Lambert. In 1903, it provided advice on the best ateliers (studios) in Paris for women to receive training in art.

Connoisseur was another popular magazine and the British Australasian and The London Times would have also been read widely. these publications also included articles and information about artists and exhibitions.

From about 1910, a number of publications about modern art began to become available to an Australian audience. For example, in London Roger Fry published articles in Vision and Design (1920) and produced eight books from the mid 1920s, notably Transformations (1927) and Cézanne (1928). The treatise Du Cubisme by Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger had been translated into English in 1913. Gleizes was later to teach Grace Cowley, Dorrit Black and Anne Dangar in Paris. Andre Lohte, who was also sought out as a teacher by many Australian students, produced a number of articles which were translated into English.

The Australian magazine Art in Australia was published several times per year between 1916 and 1942 and included articles about local and overseas artists and events. It also included numerous colour and black and white reproductions. Artist Roland Wakelin wrote several articles, including one titled The Modern Art Movement in Australia, in 1928. He wrote:

"It was about the year 1913 that the first glimmerings of what is now called "modern art” came to us in Sydney—I remember seeing in a Sunday paper a cubist "Nude Descending a Staircase.” It was puzzling, but I wanted to know more about these pictures. The names of Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh were then unknown here. We art students knew a little of the French Impressionists, Manet, Monet, Degas and Rodin, but more of the English Impressionism of Whistler."

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912 from phil museum.jpg

(Duchamp had seen photographs by Eadweard Muybridge, which influenced this early Futurist artwork.)

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

Eadweard Muybridge, Man descending stairs, from Animal Locomotion, 1887.png

Eadweard Muybridge, Man descending stairs, from Animal Locomotion, 1887

Wakelin's comments reflect the general level of understanding by the Australian population about developments art in Europe in the early 20th Century. 

It wasn’t until about the mid 1920s that Modern art in Australia by Australians began to be shown, with The Sock Knitter, by Grace Cossington Smith in around 1915, being the first generally acknowledged modernist work.

Grace Cossington Smith, The Sock Knitter, c1915

An artist’s life overseas

How did Australian artists make the most of the opportunities overseas?

While some artists made the journey on their own, other chose to be with family or friends – there are many instances of artists sharing the same accommodation and travelling together. As had been common for centuries, they copied works in art museums.


Many travelled through several countries to visit museums which held work by artists they admired, or just to observe the different light and lifestyles, and some joined artist colonies or summer schools. 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.


Aside from taking formal lessons at academies and schools, artists worked closely with private teachers, respected artists and friends at a range of ateliers (studios). They joined art societies and clubs and exhibited with local artists.Artists also applied to exhibit with formal and established galleries and Salons, and developed relationships with local art dealers.


Many artists won prestigious awards, both in England and France.Australian artists developed and explored new styles of art - not only painting, but also printmaking, sculpture, pottery, fabric and costume and set design. While some remained relatively true to traditional styles or Impressionism, others embraced modernism, from Cubism through to Abstract art.


Regardless of what directions they took, all the artists who spent any time overseas would have been influenced to some degree by what they saw and who they met. In particular a greater use of colour and design can be seen reflected in works from this period.


However, there was a large cohort of Australian painters, including Tom Roberts, and Han Heysen etc, who, particularly up until well after the end of World War I, remained largely focused on portraying Australia’s post Federation national identity through nostalgic paintings of rural homesteads, gum trees and intimate views of the middle class enjoying afternoon tea on the verandah. “The favoured view was of homestead paddocks with milking cows casting long shadows in early morning or twilight, as they grazed in cool temperate pasture






While some remained overseas for most of their lives, others returned to Australia to progress their careers, and influence a new generation of artists.

While overseas during the period from 1890 to 1940, Australians were exposed to significant change affecting France and the UK – two world wars, the depression of the late 1920s and early 30s, vast modernisation of very day life (motor cars, electricity etc), the ‘roaring twenties’ and increasing interest in women’s rights, including the suffragette movement in England. These changes were to influence artists’ decisions about their involvement in these significant events, and whether they chose to remain or return to Australia.

The development of Modern art in France and the UK


Impressionism, with its focus on light and capturing momentary effects, had been the emerging style attracting artists in France from the early 1870s. Post Impressionism, which is largely identified with the work of Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Seurat and Paul Gauguin, saw experimentation in composition and colour, with Cezanne and Seurat in particular being interested in science and its application to how our eyes perceive images. Both Impression and Post Impressionism, which in a large part led to Modernism, persisted as important influences well in the 1900s.

Since the late 1800s art styles had been changing dramatically in Europe. Artists were experimenting with Symbolism, Expressionism, Fauvism and Cubism - all Modernist forms of art. From the early 1910s there was a move towards Abstraction. The opening up of new avenues for exhibiting work from the second half of the 19th Century meant that artists no longer needed to rely on the academic Paris Salon to show their works, so felt freer to explore new techniques and subject matter.


Jeanne Jacquemin, Daydream, 1894

Ernst  Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz, 1914

Henri Matisse, Open Window, Collioure, 1905


Albert Gleizes, Man on a Balcony, 1912.


Sonia Delauney, Rhythm, 1938

France and Modernism

Paris around the turn on the century saw the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the Paris Métro, and the completion of the Paris Opera. Three lavish "universal expositions" in 1878, 1889, and 1900 brought millions of visitors to Paris to see the latest innovations in commerce, art, and technology.


The city was a thriving centre of artistic activity that provided unparalleled conditions for the exchange of creative ideas during the first half of the 20th Century. Writers, philosophers and artists flocked to the neighbourhoods of Montmartre and later Montparnasse.

montparnasse 1900.png

Montparnasse, c1900

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

Artists working in Paris around 1900 included (to name just a few) Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Mary Cassatt, Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gaugin, Henri de Toulouse - Latrec, Paul Signac, Susan Valadon, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, Émilie Charmy, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Sonia Delauney, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Marie Laurencin, Marie Vorobieff, Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, Romaine Brooks and Amedeo Modigliani, James McNeil Whistler and John Singer Sargent. These artists, in particular, were keen to develop new ways of looking at, and presenting, the world.

However, not all artists and art institutions saw themselves as part of the avant- garde. In both France and England academic conservatism continued to attract a large body of artists focused on traditional subjects and techniques.




Pablo Picasso, Woman in White, 1923

​After World War I, there was also a revival in classical artistic techniques and subject matter (known as Return to Order). Many artists, some of whom had previously worked in avant-garde styles, sought to return to painting representational figures and calm, balanced compositions. For example, Pablo Picasso, who had been a leading figure in Cubism, began to paint large neo-classical works such Woman in White, 1923.

England and Modernism

Despite their close proximity, artistic developments in France and England had differed through the 1800s and into the early 1900s.


British art had been fairly isolated from the radical developments that had been taking place in Paris, perhaps due in part to the political upheaval, and therefore relative isolation, of France, although Impressionists artists such as Monet, Pissarro and Sisley took refuge in England as a result the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the fall of the Second Empire and the Paris Commune. However, in the 1870s French Impressionism was still in its infancy.


The turn of the century was a time of cultural change in England, following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. For a short period up until World War One (WWI), known as the Edwardian age, there was a relaxing of the strict repression of Victorian society. King Edward VII created an atmosphere enabling greater social change and modern art, without the restrictions of moralistic approaches, to expand and flourish.


During the first two decades of the 20th century of a number of new groups, or movements, were created. They were often short-lived, generally for no more than two or three years. Artists were often associated with one or more such associations simultaneously. Some published dynamic manifestos, others simply assembled as exhibition groups.


One group, the Camden Town group, which was founded in 1911, would create truly avant-garde movements such as Vorticism in 1914.


Although at the time of the Group’s founding, British art was fairly isolated from the radical developments such as Cubism that had taken place in Paris, members had a shared interest in common urban subjects, the streets and people of London, everyday scenes, sometimes mundane, sometimes extraordinary.

David Bomberg, Figure Study (Racehorse), c  1914

Robert Upstone, curator of Modern British Art at the Tate wrote;

“With their pulsating colour harmonies and urban subject matter, the Group were consciously identified as modern but they occupied a comfortable — and perhaps quintessentially British — middle ground between tradition and the truly avant-garde” .

England didn't generally begin to embrace Modernism until British art critic Roger Fry (together with art critic Clive Bell) organised the first Post-Impressionist exhibition at London’s Grafton Galleries in 1910.


The exhibition was officially titled Manet and the Post-Impressionists. It featured Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent Van Gogh as well as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, André Derain, Georges Seurat and Maurice de Vlaminck. It was a major commercial success, attracting over 25,000 visitors over the two months it was on display. (The term Post Impressionism was coined by Fry and later accepted generally.)


Australian artist Thea Proctor, who had moved to London in 1903, stated;

"We had the Post-Impressionists’ exhibition ... another thrilling experience was rather a shock, because I had been trained to draw the figure realistically,and of course, with the Gauguins, the form was very simplified ...But the colour was thrilling. "

Both Proctor and fellow Australian artist George Lambert were persuaded by Fry’s view that formal design was more important than naturalistic representation in art. Lambert also became convinced that artists should adopt an ‘almost cubic construction’ and ‘reduce nature’s complicated design to a definite form’ .


This approach also influenced George Bell’s modernist teaching principles in his art school in Melbourne during the 1930s and 40s. Bell had also been in London in 1910 at the time of Fry’s exhibition.


Another feature of Fry’s principles relating to art was that it should be ‘decorative’, which although not clearly defined, related to the aesthetics of art and ideas of a formalist approach to composition.

Roger Fry, Still life  jug and eggs,  1911.png

Roger Fry, Still life-  jug and eggs, 1911

Margaret Preston, Native flowers, c 1927

Margaret Preston, Native flowers, c 1927

One Australian artist who responded to this approach was Margaret Preston (Rose McPherson), who had initially travelled to Europe in 1904 with Bessie Davidson, studying for three years in Munich and Paris.

Fry held a second Post Impressionist exhibition in 1912, together with other members of  the Bloomsbury group - a circle of artists, writers and intellectuals in the first half of the 20th century, originating in the Bloomsbury home of Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell. The Bloomsbury artists were strongly influenced by and responsive to the European movements of their day, especially Post-Impressionism,  Cubism, as well as artworks from Africa and Asia. Their previously conservative artistic styles changed dramatically after they viewed works by Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne during a 1909 visit to Paris.


According to the Tate Gallery, the 1912 exhibition is still the most comprehensive survey of post-impressionist art that has been displayed in England. For many young British artists this was their first encounter with post-impressionism, and led to them experimenting with colour and abstraction. 


Key British artists in the early 20th Century included Augustus John, Walter Sickert, Paul Nash, Frank Brangwyn, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Stanley Spencer, Tristram Hillier, Gwen John, Spencer Gore, William Orpen, Walter Sickert, Graham Sutherland, Edward Burra, Glyn Philpot, Stanhope Forbes, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Claude Flight, Edward Burra, Dod Procter, Percy Wyndham Lewis, and Laura Knight, Frederick Brown, Christopher Wood, Wilson Steer and Henry Tonks

Life and Study in England

Doora Meeson, Members of the Queen Marys Army Auxiliary Corps At Work in the Cookhouse, Ro

Doora Meeson, Members of the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps: At Work in the Cookhouse, Royal Air Force Camp, Charlton Park, 1919

Perhaps the most popular area for Australians living in London was Chelsea, which like St John’s Wood and Bloomsbury, was known for its creative and somewhat bohemian lifestyle, and its proximity to artistic and educational institutions, such as the Royal College of Art. Artists were also attracted to Chelsea because of its history, site on the Thames, and its reputation as an artist’s and writer’s community.


Artists Dora Meeson and her husband George Coates established themselves in Chelsea in 1906. They became members of an extensive circle of Australian expatriate artists and the couple provided strong support for fellow Australian artists, with their studios being venues for social and political functions. Their circle included Tom Roberts, George Lambert, Fred Leist, Bess Norris, Ruby Lindsay and Will Dyson. Meeson was a suffragette, and as women were excluded from the Chelsea Club and other male only networks, she went to great lengths to make welcome and support women artists, developing her own extensive networks, and championed the rights of women to be included in artistic activities.


Other Australian artists living in Chelsea included Thea Proctor, Marion Jones and sculptor Margaret Baskerville. Baskerville described Chelsea as “the great students’ district, corresponding to the Latin Quarter of Paris ”.


London c 1900

Dora Meeson, On a Chelsea Balcony, 1912.png

Dora Meeson, On a Chelsea Balcony, 1912

Academies and Schools

Not surprisingly, because of its ties with colonial Australia, England was often the first choice for artists travelling overseas around the turn of the century.


London offered formal study at the very traditional and academic Royal Academy, which was founded in 1768, and the Slade School, which opened in the 1870s.


The establishment of the Royal Academy was in part due to events in Europe. British artists had sought inspiration by travelling to European museums to view the masters first hand, but during the French Revolution, and the Revolutionary wars in the late 19th century, British artists were unable to travel to Europe. Until the late 1800s, almost every important artist in Britain was associated with Royal Academy, either as an elected member, or by displaying work at its annual exhibitions.


Australian artists such as Nicholas Chevalier, Tom Roberts, John Longstaff, Rupert Bunny, Arthur Streeton, E Phillips Fox, Margaret Preston, Agnes Goodsir, Jessie Traill and William Dobell were educated, and/or exhibited and subsequently gained reputation through the RA . George Lambert become an Associate of the Royal Academy.


Arriving in London in 1919, sculptor Daphne Mayo attended the Royal College of Art briefly and worked as an assistant to the sculptor John Angel, before entering the Sculpture School of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1920. She was awarded Royal Academy of Arts medal (gold) in 1923.


However, by the early 20th century, as the art world was adapting to new movements, the Royal Academy was ceasing to be at the centre of British art, although for many, the Royal Academy's annual summer exhibition remained an important event.


Writing to Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton describes the Royal Academy as having, “an inartistic atmosphere” and claims he “hasn’t the least desire to go again” .


Arthur Streeton, Corfe Castle, 1909

Agnes Goodsir, Girl on a Couch, c 1915

Agnes Goodsir, Girl on a Couch, c 1915.png

The Slade offered female students an education on equal terms as men, making it attractive to Australian artists, although the fees made study there prohibitive, with many artists choosing to attend classes in France instead. A number of British artists studied there before training in Paris (where it was not only much cheaper but also generally less academic).


Tasmanian born Derwent Lees (1885-1931) left Melbourne to enrol in the Slade in 1905 under Frederick Brown and Henry Tonks, where he was soon regarded as the outstanding student of the time. 15 of Lee‘s 19 drawings won prizes there in 1907, and in 1908 he received First Prize in Life Drawing. He was immediately appointed to the staff as drawing master and remained at the Slade until 1918, during which time he taught a generation of English modernists including Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Paul Nash. Lees was considered a progressive teacher and was held in high regard. He exhibited with the New English Art Club from 1911 to 1917 and Vanessa Bell‘s Friday Club from 1911 to 1916, where his work was hung beside many of his former students .


Lees travelled widely in Europe during this time and his paintings of landscapes and figures were made using pure strong colours.

Unfortunately, in 1918 Lees was committed to an asylum in Surrey, suffering from schizophrenia and he remained there until his death in 1931. The techniques and colours in some of his landscapes are evoked in the paintings of Elioth Gruner after his travel through Europe from 1923. Although Gruner responded to the works of Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne that he had seen in London and Paris, his use of colour and technique are similar to many of Lee’s works. Gruner made a living from sales and commissions while overseas, which included time spent walking and painting in France and Italy, with trips to Paris, Rome, Naples and Capri and an extended stay in St Tropez in 1924 .

English born Ethel Carrick, who later married Phillips Fox, studied at the Slade in the early 1900s.

Dora Meeson was one Australian artist who studied at the Slade (from 1892-93) and had her work exhibited at the Royal Academy. She also studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and had her work exhibited at the Paris Salon. Meeson worked as a policewoman on night-duty in an ammunition factory during the war and painted a number of war-related subjects.


She later became a noted maritime painter. In 1919 she became the first Australian woman member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. She was also a founding member of the Society of Mural Decorators and Painters in Tempera.


Meeson’s style was initially influenced by Impressionism. She readily admitted her enthusiasm for Monet's 'brilliant light and colour' and wrote: “Neither did he (George Coates) understand my struggle to express light and colour, but always wanted me to lower my work in tone, whereas I would urge him to lighten his. But we went our separate ways quite harmoniously. The crampedness of painting and living in a studio drove me out to study the river and the multitudinous forms of water, and to try to give it weight and movement and glorious, ever-changing colour, while George concentrated more and more on figure painting. ”

She lived not far from Whistler's home in London and her Thames views show his influence. She deliberately painted scenes of labour on the Thames embankments, and scenes of shipping on the river itself. Meeson insisted on going out on a boat on dangerously stormy days and painting during dangerous wind storms.


Some of her paintings show the impasto (thick painting) and rich colours of the Post Impressionists, demonstrating how Meeson experimented and developed her style during her career.


George Coates had travelled to Europe in 1897 on a National Gallery Travelling Scholarship. Initially he studied in Paris at the Académie Julian, where Meeson was a fellow student. In 1900, Coates moved to England where he became known principally as a portrait painter, as well as a war artist. Essentially, he remained faithful to his representative approach.

George Coates, A Russian Lady, c1920

George Coates, Australian official war artists, 1916–1918

George Coates, A Russian Lady, c1920.png

standing l-r: John Longstaff, Charles Bryant, George Lambert, A. Henry Fullwood, James Quinn, Septimus Power, Arthur Streeton, seated back l-r: Will Dyson, Fred Leist, front: George Bell.

The Grosvenor School of Art, which opened in London in 1925, is an important part of Australian art history, as it offered printmaking classes in linoblock, linocut, lithography and etching, as well as tuition in life drawing, painting and composition. As the school had no entrance exams or fixed terms, students could attend for any period of time.


According to its prospectus, the school aimed to 'encourage students to express their own individual ideas rather than be forced to accept worn-out academic theories'

A key teacher at the school was Claude Flight, who had been influenced by Italian Futurist writer Marinettini. Marinettini had stated in his Futurist manifesto that ‘the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed ’. The early 1900s was a period when there were major advances in modes of travel, including motor cars and aeroplanes, as well as the speed of travel.


Natalia Goncharova,(Russian Futurist) Cyclist, 1913


Claude Flight, Brooklands, c. 1929

Particularly under Flight's tuition, a number of Australian artists such as Dorrit Black, Ethel Spowers and Eveline Symes perfected the art of linocuts, often adopting a Futurist style, including the avant-garde art movements of British Vorticism, Italian Futurism and Art Deco. They combined abstraction and dynamism with geometric elements to create the sense of rapid movement. These three artists went on to become leading printmakers in Australia from the 1930s.

Dorrit Black had attended Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School in 1915 where she adopted oils as her main medium, and soon showed the influences of both Ashton and Elioth Gruner. During the 1920s she was increasingly focused on 'modernising' her practice and in 1927 travelled to Europe in order to acquire "a definite understanding of the aims and methods of the modern movement and in particular - the cubists ". Initially staying in London, she spent three months studying with Flight before moving to Paris.

Dorrit Black, Mirmande (with surrounding hills), 1934

Eveline Syme, who had been studying at art schools in Paris in the early 1920s, had discovered Claude Flight's textbook, Lino-Cuts (London, 1927), in Melbourne in 1928. This inspired her to enrol in his classes at the Grosvenor School in 1929, together with her friend, Ethel Spowers . She wrote;

Here was something new and different, linocut no longer regarded as a base form of woodcut, but evolved into a distinct branch of 20th century art. I had seen nothing more vital and essentially "modern" in the best sense of the word than the reproductions in this book ... Soon after my arrival in England I became one of the pupils at the Grosvenor school. ”

In 1932 she wrote that ‘One can learn all the intricacies of any form of art at the Grosvenor School of modern art’..

Eveline Syme, San Domenico, Siena. 1931

After returning to Melbourne later in 1929 with an exhibition of contemporary wood-engravings from the Redfern Gallery, London, Syme became a cautious advocate of modern art.


The founder of the Grosvenor school was Iain Macnab, a progressive teacher who offered books of tickets for his classes. He focused on compositions, colour schemes and way of treating and symbolising forms. Macnab’s aim was;

Not so much to train students to paint what they saw as to teach them to isolate from nature the elements that are truly pictorial, and then to develop their own personalities. His ambition was to first make artists’ . He shared Flight’s focus on vitality and was also interested in ‘looking for repetition of lines and patterns and stressing them’ .

Other Australian students who studied with Macnab in the 1930s included Peter Purves Smith, George Bell and Nutter Buzacott.


From 1938 to 1940 Purves Smith painted in Paris and London, joining the British Army in 1940. Inspired by contemporary French painting his owed much to the organic imagery of the Surrealists, having viewed the International Surrealist Exhibition in London mid 1936. (He was also influenced by English artists Christopher Wood and Paul Nash, and French artists Amedeo Modigliani, Rousseau and Maurice Utrillo.


Back in Australia, he later studied with George Bell in Melbourne, together with his friend, artist William Drysdale. Unfortunately, Purves Smith died from complications from major lung surgery in 1948 in Melbourne, although he influenced many of his contemporaries with his modernist style during his short artistic career.

Peter Purves Smith, Nude, 1937

Peter Purves Smith, Burke and Wills, The Perish, 1937

The London School of Art was known as ‘Brangwyn’s’ after one of its founders, Frank Brangwyn. The School was soon regarded as a success, prompting The Studio to report in 1906 that it ‘had already made for itself a position amongst the leading institutions of its kind in London’ and two years later it had developed a reputation that extended beyond England and Europe, with a London correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald reporting in 1908 that the School provided ‘the best tuition to be had in this part of the world’ .

Brangwyn was a Welsh artist, painter, printmaker, illustrator and designer who worked across a broad range of artistic fields. He had been influenced by European Realists, the Arts and Crafts movement, Whistler and the Pre-Raphaelites and later Symbolism and Art Nouveau .

He had worked for William Morris from 1882 to 1884, where he learnt the principles of design and decorative arts and at the age of just 17, Brangwyn exhibited his first painting at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, later becoming a full member.

During WWI, Brangwyn produced official war posters and made prints to raise money for the war effort, also serving as the President of the Royal Society of British Artists.  

Kathleen O'Connor, Still Life, Paris,Study in whites, 1936.png

Kathleen O’Connor was one Australian student who studied with Brangwyn.


She recalled “He usually took up the brush & made an illustration to show his way of doing things. One girl I remember was trying to paint white tulips in water colours & he said don’t bother about the lights, just paint the shadows, in the shapes and low and behold the flower was there” .

Kathleen O'Connor, Still Life, Paris, Study in whites, 1936

Printmaker Jessie Traill was strongly influenced by Brangwyn. She studied at the school for several years from 1907, during which time she dramatically changed in her approach.  Brangwyn worked with Traill directly in the production of her early plates, guiding her through the development and printing of individual prints. He taught her the formal principles and technical methods that underpinned his decorative concept of printmaking.



Jessie Traill, The roadside, Flanders, 1907

etching on zinc24.8 x 19.9 cm Inscr. lwr left ‘F. B. Printed by Brangwen, J. Traill’s plate’

Inspired by Whistler’s etchings of Venetian façades and boat yard interiors, The Charing Cross Bridge, London etching shows Traill’s interest in fusing the lessons of Brangwyn with her regard for Whistler. 

She interrupted her career to work as a voluntary nurse in France during WWI, later raising funds for and revisiting war-torn Europe.

When she returned to Australia Traill's prints displayed complex arrangements of light and shade as well as aggressive mark making. These characteristics led to a tonal aesthetic and created a ‘pleasing decorative rhythm ’ in her work. In addition to being one of the most important printmakers in Australia in the 20th century, Traill helped popularise the medium. She mentored the next generation of artists in printmaking. including Arthur Boyd, Fred Williams and Franz Kempf. 

In 1910, the London School of Art was amalgamated with the New Art School in Logan Place, run by poster artist John Hassall, where it reopened as the London and New Art School .

St John’s Wood Art School (subsequently the Anglo-French Art Centre) established the pattern of inviting famed artists of the day to criticise the students’ work in a relaxed atmosphere, and to present prizes.


Thea Proctor studied there briefly in 1903, before taking private lessons with Australian artist George Lambert, who would become a close friend and mentor.

George lambert, Miss Thea Proctor,  1903

While in London, Proctor’s artistic circle included William Orpen, Augustus John, Wilson Steer and expatriate Australians Charles Conder, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts . She was as equally absorbed by the sleek figures of contemporary fashion (such as those featured in the pages of the newly launched Vogue magazine) as she was by the silken-mysterious beings in Conder’s fan compositions.


After living in London for 18 years, Proctor returned to Sydney in 1921 and taught at Julian Ashton’s art school.


Charles Conder, The New Moon Fan, 1896

Norah Simpson studied at the Westminster School of Art with Walter Sickert in 1912.


With ties to painters such as James McNeill Whistler and Edgar Degas, Sickert strengthened the artistic connections between Britain and France. Unlike the majority of the Camden Town Group,  Sickert gained a reputation as one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century British art.


In 1883, he had travelled to Paris and met Edgar Degas, whose use of pictorial space and emphasis on drawing would have a powerful effect on Sickert's work.  Degas encouraged Sickert to tackle a wide range of subject matter, portraying urban scenes in Paris and Dieppe, including forms of entertainment such as music-halls and the circus. From here he developed his personal version of Impressionism.

Edgar Degas, Four Dancers, c1899

Walter Sickert, Wellington House Academy, 1914

Walter Sickert and Edgar Degas

Working with Sickert, Norah Simpson  gained an insight Into French impressionist theories and practises. This was followed by a visit to Paris, where she closely studied Impressionist paintings, and through introductions to dealers and collectors, viewed works by Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso.


Simpson left for Australia in 1913 but by 1915 she had returned to London, before moving to Glasgow in 1919 and on to France in 1920.

When the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts first opened in 1898 Camberwell under the, it offered day and evening instruction across a wide range of subjects from Architecture, Furniture Design, Life Drawing and Stained Glass Work to Dressmaking, Pottery and Typography.


Margaret Preston had returned to London in 1912 with Gladys Reynell, where she saw the second post-Impressionist exhibition organised by Fry in 1912.


Preston and Reynell lived in Paris and Brittany in 1913-14, where Preston furthered an interest in Japanese printing processes and principles of design, and responded to the work of Cezanne. It was during this time that Preston recognised ‘a picture that is meant to fill a certain space should decorate that space ’.


Returning to London at the outbreak of war, Preston exhibited at the Royal Academy, the New English Art Club and the Society of Women Artists. In 1916, she enrolled at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts as a student of pottery, at the same time developing her interest in fabric printing and dyeing, basket weaving and printmaking, for which she was to become best known in her career after returning to Sydney in 1919.

Margaret Preston, Beaker,

Gladys Reynell, Teapot, 1922

Margaret Preston, Beaker, 1917

Artists’ Clubs

Artists’ clubs functioned as a meeting space for artists to engage in a stimulating artistic environment and gain introductions to leading figures in the art world. The club environment in London had a significant impact on male Australian artists as it offered opportunities for them to become integrated into the English art world, to become known and to establish reputations.

The New English Art Club (NEAC) which had been founded in 1885 by artists such as Whistler (who quickly left the group), John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert and Stanhope Forbes. Initially it had been known for exhibiting new and innovative British art, with its first exhibition in 1886 including en plein air works by artists who had been studying in Paris, but by 1910 it had become a more conservative body. By 1913 the Times could describe the NEAC as ‘one of the strongest conservative forces in the country" .

The London Savage Club attracted many Australian expatriates. It had been formed in 1857 and members were drawn from fields of art, literature, law, music, science, and drama. (In 1894 the Melbourne Savage Club, which modelled on the London Savage Club, opened.)


In 1890 a group of artists formed the Chelsea Art Club. Key members included Whistler, William Orpen, Augustus John, and Sargent. Numerous Australian artists, such as Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts joined the Chelsea Arts Club. Other Australians 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 served as a venue for artists to entertain and host visitors from “home”. In late 1902, Streeton wrote:

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 ”.


Arthur Streeton, Frosty Noon, 1901

Tom Roberts, Thames Barges, c1909

John Longstaff, Untitled (Coastal View & Cliffside)


James Quinn, Wimbledon Park


George Coates, Will Dyson, c 1917

Will Dyson, Going over the old ground with B..., Pozieres, 1917


Henry A Fullwood, Whistler's House, the Vale, Chelsea


George Lambert, Portrait group (The mother), 1907


Will Ashton, Barges on the River

Although he had a strong reputation in Australia, Streeton didn’t initially have the same luck in England and he made his money by selling his paintings at home. However, in 1909 he travelled to Venice, producing many works of art, and later began to exhibit regularly in London and Paris. He was elected as a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1910.

Tom Roberts had been contracted to paint the 'Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York, May 9, 1901' in 1901 and for the next two years he continued working on the ‘Big Picture’, before leaving Melbourne to return to London to finalise a number of portraits needed to complete it. Unfortunately, the two year detailed commission seemed to have drained him of much of his inspiration and energy, and with the onset of eye trouble, he entered what has been described as his 'black period'.

Encouraged by Streeton, Roberts became particularly active in London’s Australian expatriate artistic community and later became Vice-President of the Chelsea Arts Club. His work 'A Norfolk Barn', 1909, was exhibited at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, London, and in 1910, two of his works were exhibited at the Royal Academy, to which he had gained membership several years earlier.


Tom Roberts, A Norfolk Barn, 1909


However, Robert’s style did not evolve in the same way as it had from his earlier trip to England in the 1880s. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, he enlisted with Streeton and other artist colleagues from the Club, becoming an orderly at the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth. However, unlike Streeton, he didn’t become a war artist.

With women excluded (or having limited rights) from most clubs, from the late 1800s a number of women only clubs were formed. Australian women were drawn to the Ladies’ Empire, Imperial, Austral and the Lyceum Club.


The Lyceum Club for women opened in Piccadilly in 1904. Its aim was to “focus the women in art, literature, science, medicine, music, public service, journalism, drama and other important directions ”and included gallery space for exhibitions. At the time it was a part of the feminism and suffragette movement, placing an emphasis on professional networking and international connections. Dora Meeson presented a lecture on Ancient and Modern Art there in 1921. (Not long after the London club opened, Australia also opened a number of Lyceum Clubs, with similar values and aims.)

Galleries and Exhibitions

The London Group was an exhibiting group which was formed in 1913 as a reaction to the Royal Academy's dominance of the British art world, and the restrictions placed on artists in what they were taught and how they exhibited. The original members set out to radicalise the art scene by giving artists access to affordable exhibition venues. It embraced the whole spectrum of modern art in Britain at the time.

The Camden Town Group was established in 1911, shortly after Fry's first Post Impressionist exhibition. The group's choice of everyday subjects, their bold, anti-naturalistic colouring and interest in progressively simplifying forms, presented a type of painting that was new and different. They occupied a comfortable middle ground between tradition and the truly avant-garde. Australian born artist Henry Taylor Lamb was a founder member of the Camden Town Group and then of the London Group in 1913.

Opportunities for exhibiting work also included the Modern Society of Portrait Painters in London, and numerous art clubs such as the New English Art Club and the International Society.


Margaret Preston exhibited regularly at both the New English Art Club and the Royal Academy. She embraced the principles of British ‘decorative’ art and Japanese woodcuts in her still-life compositions notable for their flattened perspective, tonal colour harmonies, contrasting black and white and the introduction of decorative elements.

Margaret Preston, Still life and flowers, 1916-19

Margaret Preston, Still life and flowers

After being awarded the Society of Artists Travelling Scholarship in 1900, George Lambert had sailed to Europe.  After settling in London, he exhibited at both the New English Art Club, the Chelsea Arts Club and the International Society, as was elected as an associate of the Royal Academy in 1922.  and a founder of the Modern Society of Portrait Painters.


Lambert was not a modernist - he particularly admired the seventeenth century artists Rubens, Vandyke and Velasquez, as well as contemporaries J. M. Whistler and John Singer Sargent, whom he felt had preserved the qualities of old masters.


George Lambert, The Charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 1917

In December 1917 he was appointed an official war artist, A.I.F. and commissioned to execute 25 sketches and to paint The Charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba on 31 October 1917.

George lambert, Mrs Murdoch, 1927 Archibald prize.png

Lambert was principally known as a portrait artist, developing a significant reputation as an academic realist. After serving as a war artist he returned to Sydney in 1921, becoming a major active influence on contemporary art, popular with artists who wanted him to exhibit with them, dealers who wanted his works and clients who wanted commissioned portraits. In 1927 he was awarded the Archibald Prize.

George Lambert, Mrs Murdoch, 1927 (Archibald prize winner)

The Grafton Galleries (Grafton Gallery), where Roger Fry's two famous exhibitions of Post-Impressionist works in were both held 1910 and 1912, was also where the French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel had shown the first major exhibition in Britain of Impressionist paintings in 1905. (In 1898 there had been a major exhibition of Australian art at the gallery – the Exhibition of Australian Art in London. It featured 371 artworks made in Australia by 114 artists. Interestingly, although the exhibition featured many painting from the Heidelberg region, the drawings and watercolours of the exhibition's women artists, especially their Australian floral subjects, comprised almost half of the sales.)

The Women’s International Arts Club exhibited at the gallery on numerous occasions and in 1930, Australia artists were invited to exhibit with this group. Society of Women Artists.


The following article about the British Colonial Art Exhibition held in London in June 1902, indicates the number and diversity of Australians painting in Britain and France at the time.   A ‘special correspondent’ reported in the South Australian Advertiser that;

“The best pictures are by Australian and Canadian artists who have studied in Paris, and their styles are rather distinctively French than typically colonial. There are 156 paintings …. The Victorian contingent is most strongly represented, and the works of Rupert Bunny, Arthur Streeton, Hugh Ramsey, and Ambrose McC. Patterson make the most powerful appeal to the eye. George Coates has a portrait of his fiancée, Miss Dora Meeson, and she a somewhat Rembrandtesque portrait of a girl in red and black. E. Phillips Fox contributes one portrait, a girl in a white evening dress. Mr. B. E. Minns snows considerable humour in his "Old Reminiscences,'' a group of characteristic Chelsea pensioners. His other contribution is a long panel of Sydney Harbour which is also pictured by Mr.J. Hamilton Hammon. Percy Spence, who has a show of his own on in the Woodbury Gallery, sends a profile portrait of the late Sir Andrew Clarke, and A. H. Fullwood a landscape of Auckland Harboor on the occasion of the Ophir's arrival. The young Queenslander, R. J. Randall, and Miss Florence Fuller are perhaps most Australian in feeling, and H. S. Hopwood's "Lighting Up" deserves a special word, South Australia is well represented by Miss Madge Cockburn’s study of a young girl's head (the subtle modelling of which I heard praised by one of the English critics) and a bowl of yellow roses. Mrs. Arnold's portrait of her husband, Miss Ada Egan's"Roses," Mrs. Maude Wholshaw's and Miss J. L. Wilson's red gum blossoms, Mr. James Ashton's picture of a rolling surf, and Mr. J. W. Ashton's "Evening," Mr. R. Hayley Lever's "Winter Evening on the Seine." "Sunny Afternoon, Charenton," and "Making for the Fishing Grounds," are vigorous,and show the influence of his French training; Mr. E. W. Christmas has five pictures, which are among the most typi-cally Australian in atmosphere and colouring .”

Other private galleries in London included the Baillie, Carfax, Chenil and Goupil.

Artists Colonies in Cornwall

Both Newlyn and St Ives were popular artist colonies in Cornwall, which for the most part had a strong focus on Realist art, or Naturalism, which had earlier been a significant influence on Australian Impressionism.


In the late 1800s and early 1900s most of the British and Australian artists painting en plein air in England didn’t adopt the high key colour and small brushstroke of the French Impressionists. They were less concerned about the optics, or science of colour, than artists such as Cezanne and Seurat. A greater influence was French naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage who was interested in paintings people and places in natural conditions – and the coast of England proved to be a popular location to achieve this.

The work of the Newland and St Ives artists was introduced to Australia by the Anglo Australian Society of Artists exhibitions held in the late 1880s 1990s in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. After the success of these exhibitions Australian artists were drawn to the colonies of Newlin and St Ives to experience artistic and financial freedom and to train and work alongside artists who were highly regarded within Art Academy circles .

George Bell became associated with a group of painters, including Elizabeth and Stanhope Forbes, who were based in St Ives in around 1906. Prior to this he'd  travelled to France where he studied at the Académie Julian, Colarossi's and La Grande Chaumiére. Bell left St Ives in 1908 to work in a studio in London and became a member of the Modern Society of Portrait Painters, painting portraits and interiors in the tonalist realist manner he had been exploring during the previous few years. His work was hung in the Royal Academy and he was a member of the Chelsea Arts Club.

Emmanuel Phillips Fox arrived in St Ives in 1890 after studying at the Académie Julian in Paris and visiting many of the popular French artist colonies including Etaples, Giverny and Brittany. After returning to Australia in 1892 he was awarded the Gilby Bequest in 1900. Two conditions of the bequest were that the works be of historic importance to Australia and be produced in England. Fox chose to revisit St Ives in 1901 to complete the commission, The landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay 1770 . In 1904 he completed St Ives, Cornwall demonstrating the atmospheric qualities of the early morning and late night views, that were strong elements in the works of many artists at Sir Ives.


It was during this second visit that he met art English born student Ethel Carrick, who had trained at the Slade school.  They were married in 1905 and settled in Paris until 1913, before further travel in Europe and northern Africa. By 1908 Carrick Fox was a member of the Union Internationale des Beaux-Arts et des Lettres; in 1911 she became sociétaire of the Salon d'Automne, later an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and prior to 1913 was the vice-president of the International Union of Women Painters. In 1928 she won the diploma of honour at the International Exhibition of Bordeaux. Carrick Fox painted a number of colourful. light filled scenes in a Post Impressionist style, including in Australia which she visited on several occasions, before settling semi-permanently in Sydney in the 1940s.

George Bell,  River Landscape with Boats as a Port, Houses and Figures, c1909.png

George Bell, River Landscape with Boats as a Port, Houses and Figures, c1909

Emmanual Phillips Fox, St Ives, Cornwall, 1904.png

Emmanual Phillips Fox, St Ives, Cornwall, 1904


Ethel Carrick, Flower Market, c1926

David Davies was another Australian impressionist spent almost two decades in Cornwall after arriving in Paris in 1892. He was probably introduced to the beauty of St Ives and Cornwall through Philips Fox, “I could not keep my eyes off the sea and for a whole year painted nothing but seascapes” . Davies exhibited with the new English Art Club and the Royal Academy. Although he had moved to France by 1900 his family he moved between England, Wales and France until finally settling in Cornwall in 1932.

David Davies, Cornish village at sunset, c 1905

Other Australians who spent time in Cornwall included Will Ashton, May Vale, Emma Minnie Boyd, Vida Lahey, William Osborne, Richard Hayley Lever, Arthur Burgess, Charles Bryant, George Lambert and Charles Conder.

Life and Study in France

One of the earliest artists to travel to travel to France was Iso Rae, who travelled with her family in 1887. Developing an Impressionist style, she remained in France for most of her life, although her work was exhibited in Australia. Another early traveller was Rubert Bunny, who moved to Paris in 1886, after studying in London for two years. Bunny married a French woman and although he made several return visits to Australia he mainly lived in France until the 1930s.


John Peter Russell was another Australia expat who moved to Europe in the late 1870s, not returning until the 1920s. Russell was a friend of Vincent van Gogh and Monet. His Impressionist style, and interest in pure colour, was a major influence on the young Henri Matisse, whom he met and tutored on the island of Belle-Ilein the late 1890s. Matisse reportedly stated "Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained colour theory to me. "

John Peter Russell, Stormy Sky and Sea, Belle île, off Brittany.png

John Peter Russell, Stormy Sky and Sea, Belle île, off Brittany, 1890


John Peter Russell, Van Gogh, 1886


Henri Matisse, Boat, Brittany, 1896

Russell also shared his knowledge about Impressionism with Tom Roberts on a walking tour of Spain in 1883, and they had regularly corresponded after this time .

Early in the 20th century a large number of European artists such as Renoir, Dufy, Valadon, Picasso, Dali, Mondrian, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Toulouse and Modigliani lived in the Montmartre section of Paris. The area was abuzz with cafes, cabarets and artist studios. However, after the outbreak of WWI many of the artists moved to the Montparnasse quarter on the left bank. The group of artists living there included Leger, Picasso, Cocteau, Chagall, Miro, Modiglian, Max Ernst, the Duchamps and many others.

Bessie  Davidson, in her Montparnasse studio, 1913.png
Cafe Dome Montparnasse c1928.PNG

Bessie Davidson, in her Montparnasse studio, 1913

Cafe Dome Montparnasse c1928

Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and André Salmon, 1916, in front of the Café de La Rotonde.PNG

Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and André Salmon, 1916, in front of the Café de La Rotonde

As a large community of English speaking artists lived in this area it attracted a number of Australian artists who studied at the same ateliers (studios), frequented the same clubs and painted in the same artist colonies during the summer. Hilda Rex (Nicholas) moved there in 1907 and Bessie Davis in 1910. Stella Bowen, who had lived in England since 1914, relocated to France in 1923 where she lived in the same building as Bessie Davidson (whom she described as ‘the Old Australian Impressionist[i]). Both Grace Crowley and Anne Danger came to Paris to study modern art with Andre Lhote, with his Academy being located near the Montparnasse Station. Dorrit Black, who had been in London taking classes with Claude Flight, joined them in 1928 for Lhote’s summer school at Mirmande.


[i] Penelope Little, A studio in Montparnasse: Bessie Davidson: an Australian artist in Paris, Craftsman House, Melbourne, 2003, p. 55.

Those who sold well, such as Nicholas, Carrick and Davidson,while responding to the new environment,  tended to be those whose work was less influenced by the new movements in art. 

Art Schools

Australian artists gravitated to Académie Colarossi, Académie de la Grande Chaumiere, Académie Julian, Cormon’s, and Atelier Delécluze. These academies in particular were opened women and there were also more opportunities for women to exhibit their work than in London.


The prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts was the leading educational institution of academic art in France. Entry was made extremely difficult for foreigners, who had to sit a particularly difficult examination in French.


Between 1864 and 1904, more than 2,000 students received at least some of their art education through Gérôme's atelier at the École des Beaux-Arts. Places in Gérôme's atelier were limited, keenly sought after and highly competitive. Only the very best students were admitted and aspirants considered it an honour to be selected.

Gérôme's Studio

Emanuel Phillips Fox, Art Students, 1895

Emanuel Phillips Fox studied there in 1887, where he received rigorous academic training. That summer he painted in plein air artists' communities at Etaples and Brittany and visited Giverny, developing an interest in impressionist painting, before moving to St Ives in Cornwall in 1890. Phillips Fox returned to Melbourne in 1892, and with fellow plein-air painter Tudor St George Tucker, opened the Melbourne School of Art and conducted a summer school at ‘Charterisville’ in Heidelberg teaching the impressionist methods he had learnt in Europe, favouring the naturalist style of Bastien-Lepage he’d worked with in Cornwall, as well as incorporating his academic tuition from Gérôme.


Académie Julian


The Ecole des Beaux-Arts  in 1937

The Académie Julian was regarded as a stepping stone to the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Opened in 1867, it initially it consisted of a small room in Montmartre, where it offered students access to studies of live models, followed by two sessions of weekly “corrections” with well-reputed artists.


At the heart of Académie Julian’s ethos was the Atelier Libre (free workshop) movement, which provided a space for artists to work from life models without the constraints of academic norms. This movement, born out of the atelier’s progressive spirit, encouraged self-expression.


In 1880, the director opened a course exclusively for women, initially with no more than 40 students. However, in 1885 the school had 400 female students, four years later reaching 600. Within two decades there were nine new ateliers scattered around Paris, five of which were for male students and four for females .

The Academie prepared students for the entry exams to the Ecole and were granted the right to compete for the prestigious Prix de Rome, an annual scholarship awarded to promising young painters, sculptors or printmakers, which enabled them to study art for three to five years in Rome.


Evelyn Chapman, European Street Scene, 1916.png

Ida May Plante, the Boulevarde, Montparnasse, c1904

Evelyn Chapman, European Street Scene, 1916

George Coates, Portrait of Doora Meeson

The Academie also held its own art competitions, and its students were also encouraged to submit works to the Paris Salon. Ada May Plante studied there, as did Evelyn Chapman, George Coates and Harold Septimus Power.

Harold Septimus