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The 9 by 5 Impressionism Exhibition

30 Jul 2014

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!

Join us on The Artist's Road. Become a member in order to access all the in-depth articles.

--John and Ann

 

 


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