Australia is the most significant survey of Australian art ever mounted in the UK. Focusing on the influence of the landscape, Australia spans more than 200 years from 1800 to the present day and features 146 artists with over 200 works, including paintings, drawings, photography, watercolours and multimedia. This ambitious exhibition brings together works from the most important public collections in Australia, the majority of which have never been seen in the UK before.
HRH The Prince of Wales, who is the Patron of the exhibition, said: I can hardly believe that it is now almost fifty years since I first visited Australia. It was during that first stay that, like many before me, I was deeply struck by the distinctive colours and light of Mackellars sunburnt country
It is an extraordinary achievement that the Royal Academy of Arts
and the National Gallery of Australia have been able to bring together so many important works for the first time outside Australia.
The story of Australian art is inextricably linked to its landscape: an ancient land of dramatic beauty, a source of production, enjoyment, relaxation and inspiration, yet seemingly loaded with mystery and danger. For Australian artists, this deep connection with the landscape has provided a rich seam of inspiration for centuries. In 1948, the Australian artist, and Royal Academician, Sidney Nolan (1917-92) said of his iconic Ned Kelly series that it was a story arising out of the bush and ending in the bush. He believed strongly that an understanding of landscape was central to his work, giving meaning to place, and commented that he found the desire to paint the landscape involves a wish to hear more of the stories that take place in the landscape.
The exhibition maps the period of rapid and intense change; from the impact of the first settlers and colonisation on the indigenous people to the pioneering nation-building of the nineteenth century, through to the enterprising urbanisation of the last century. Reflecting the vastness of the land and the diversity of its people, early, as well as contemporary Aboriginal art sits alongside the work of the first colonial settlers, immigrant artists of the twentieth century and the work of some of todays most established Australian artists.
The exhibition includes works by Aboriginal artists such as Albert Namatjira (1902-59), Rover Thomas (c.1926-98), Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-96) and a number of artists from the Papunya Tula group of the Western Desert. Nineteenth century European immigrants such as John Glover (1767-1849) and Eugene von Guérard (1811-1901) also feature, as well as the Australian Impressionists whose paintings relied heavily on the mythology of the Australian bush: Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), Tom Roberts (1856-1931), a student of the Royal Academy Schools, Charles Conder (1868-1909) and Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917). Early Modernists such as Margaret Preston (1875-1963), Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984) and Roy de Maistre (1894-1968) hang alongside the leading twentieth-century painters: Arthur Boyd (1920-99), Albert Tucker (1914-99), Rosalie Gascoigne (1917-99), Fred Williams (1927-82), Brett Whiteley (1939-92) and Sidney Nolan RA. The exhibition ends in the twenty-first century with internationally recognised artists such as Bill Henson (b.1955), Gordon Bennett (b.1955), Tracey Moffatt (b.1960), Fiona Hall (b.1953) Shaun Gladwell (b.1972), Christian Thompson (b.1978) and Simryn Gill (b.1959) who represented Australia at the Venice Biennale this year.
Highlights include Frederick McCubbins The Pioneer, 1904 (National Gallery of Victoria); four paintings from Sidney Nolans Ned Kelly series, 1946 (National Gallery of Australia); Rover Thomas Cyclone Tracy, 1991 (National Gallery of Australia); Emily Kame Kngwarreyes Big Yam Dreaming, 1995 (National Gallery of Victoria) and Shaun Gladwells video Approach to Mundi Mundi, 2007 (Art Gallery of New South Wales, John Kaldor Family Collection). Judy Watson has been commissioned to create Fire and Water, a new sculpture for the Royal Academys Annenberg Courtyard.
Australia aims to evoke a sense of the distinctiveness of the Australian landscape whilst considering the art historical developments and contributions of Australian art across the last two centuries. It shows how in the nineteenth century an exploration of national identity allowed artists a freedom to define themselves, away from the rules of the European tradition. That focus on the landscape and its complex, deep-rooted connections to national identity, has continued in the work of Australian artists to the present day.
Christopher Le Brun, President of the Royal Academy of Arts, said: The Royal Academy is delighted to be working in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia and we would like to thank them, together with the other public collections, for loaning their works. Without their support, and that of the Australian High Commission in London, this exhibition would not be possible. HRH The Prince of Wales patronage of the exhibition acknowledges the ambitious scale of the project and the close links that the UK and Australia continue to share today.
Dr Ron Radford AM, Director of the National Gallery of Australia said: This partnership between the Royal Academy of Arts and the National Gallery of Australia is a great opportunity to present Australias strong visual arts tradition, particularly that of land and landscape, both indigenous and non-indigenous, to audiences in Europe.