The 9 by 5 Impressionism Exhibition

The lesser-known Australian Impressionist painters were pioneers in portraying the unique light, landscape and daily life of Australia. We have featured them in an article for Members of The Artist's Road (The Australian Impressionists).

Perhaps the most famous exhibition of these artists was produced in 1889 and called the "9 x 5 Impressionism Exhibition". It took place in Melbourne and featured 183 works, all roughly 9" by 5" (23 cm by 13 cm)–the size of a cigar box lid, upon which many of the works were painted.

Boat on Beach Queenscliff by Tom Roberts, ca 1887, landscape painting.
Boat on Beach Queenscliff by Tom Roberts, ca 1887, landscape painting.
Pastoral in yellow and grey, a colour impression of Templestowe by Arthur Streeton, 1889, landscape painting.
Pastoral in yellow and grey, a colour impression of Templestowe
by Arthur Streeton, 1889, landscape painting.
Herricks Blossoms by Charles Conder, ca 1889, landscape painting.
Herricks Blossoms by Charles Conder, ca 1889, landscape painting.

"There was no precedent in the history of Australian art for artists grouping together to plan, promote and present an exhibition that reflected such a unified vision, and which aimed to engage the public with what was still widely regarded as a bold new approach to painting." – National Gallery of Victoria

Only about one-third of the paintings exhibited survive today.

Catalog cover by Conder.
Catalog cover by Conder.

Although the exhibition was widely attended and received some glowing reviews, it was sharply criticized by James Smith, a trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria and Melbourne's leading art critic.

"The modern impressionist asks you to see pictures in splashes of colours, in slap-dash brushwork, and in sleight-of-hand methods of execution leading to the proposition of pictorial conundrums, which would baffle solution if there were no label or catalogue. In an exhibition of paintings you naturally look for pictures, instead of which the impressionist presents you with a varied assortment of palettes. Of the 180 exhibits catalogued on the present occasion, something like four-fifths are a pain (to) the eye. Some of them look like faded pictures seen through several mediums of thick gauze; others suggest that a paint-pot has been accidentally upset over a panel of nine inches by five; others resemble the first essays of a small boy, who has just been apprenticed to a house-painter."

What is really interesting is what the artists did next. Instead of taking this negative review as a blow, the artists posted it at the entrance to exhibition. They knew that negative press can be far more beneficial than positive press or no press at all. As a result, people could not resist coming to see for themselves what all the hubbub was about, and this seems to have greatly increased visitation to the exhibition!

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–John and Ann



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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.