Exquisite paintings by Australian Impressionist artists who worked in late 19th and early 20th century France
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Australian artist John Peter Russell moved to Paris in 1884 where he learned Impressionist techniques from Monet and became classmates with Vincent Van Gogh. In 1907, when Russell’s wife died, he buried her next to his home and destroyed 400 of his watercolours and oil paintings. Although he continued to paint until his death, his profile gradually faded and Russell was never put on the same pedestal as his counterparts in history’s eye.
At NGV’s Australian Impressionists in France Russell’s ‘Peonies and Head of a Woman' (1887) is on show among 130 other paintings by Australian artists who worked and lived in France. NGV Curator Elena Taylor describes Russell’s work as extraordinary, "It’s probably the most progressive work painted by an Australian artist at that time,” she says in admiration. The painting captures a point in time when Russell explored Impressionist techniques – like short brushstrokes and unmixed colours – to represent light in new ways.
By the late 19th century, Paris was the world capital of art, and the city encouraged artists with government support in the form of annual salons and commissions for public art around the city. “Paris was the first great modern metropolis,” Taylor says. “It was an exciting place to live and it attracted art students from all around the world, including Australia.”