While I would much prefer to be sharing travel blogs about walking across Spain or through the mountains of Nepal, if I can’t do that, the next best thing is to wax lyrical about some absolute gems we have here in Australia.
The Arthur Streeton exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW is one such gem and it is not to be missed!
Find out why…
As I have mentioned a number of times in various posts, I do not have an artistic bone in my body and know even less about art. The good thing about the Streeton Exhibition is that you don’t need to know anything about art to enjoy it, simply visit the Exhibition for the sheer beauty of his work.
Arthur Streeton was born in Victoria in 1867. Although he had obvious artistic talent and a passion for art from a very early age, those times did not allow for such frivolities and he joined the workforce at 13 years of age. I feel for people, then and now, who have unlimited artistic ability and creative ambitions, but need to suppress or postpone their creativity due to the sheer necessity to put food on the table. It was even harder back then when there was no welfare safety net to cover even the barest necessities of life.
For many years Streeton juggled work and attended art school at night, honing his craft and developing his own iconic style. Over time, he was taken under the protective wing of other famous Australian artists such as Fred McCubbin, Tom Roberts and Charles Conder. These established artists celebrated the Australian bush in their work and Streeton, in his own style, followed closely in their footsteps.
Walking into the Exhibition I was dazzled by the scale and diversity of Streeton’s work. A shade of colour, Streeton blue, has been named in his honour as he featured this hue in both his skies and water scenes. The blue seems to capture and reflect the sparkling Australian light, and that is just what I was expecting to see, but it was only the start.
Displayed throughout eight or so rooms, the Exhibition showcases Streeton’s journey and development as an artist through a chronological summary of his career. It started from his early days in Australia, moved to his travels to England, falling in love with Egypt, and its opalescent light, on the way. And this is where the diversity really starts. In my ignorance he painted exclusively Australian landscapes and yet before me were minarets, Egyptian drink vendors, Welsh castles, and the cathedrals and gondolas of Venice. He also produced floral still life work and a handful of portraits.
As I walked from painting to painting, I thought I enjoyed his bushscapes the most, then I would spot a coastal scene with soaring cliffs, only to be distracted by a smoky, gritty urban streetscape. The consistent theme running through all his work seems to be his highly skilled use of light and shadow to create depth and interest.
The thing that surprised me even more was his sense of whimsy and fun. For some reason I thought that painters were mostly dour and serious, and yet if you looked closely into the foreground of some of his paintings you could spot a black cat sitting precariously on a roof top, a toy boat discarded off to one side of a beach or a cicada shell clinging to a blade of grass. Did he paint that for his own amusement? Or to check if we were really seeing his paintings?
The artworks featured in the Exhibition have been gathered from all over Australia, from both private collections and other public galleries. That would have been a major organisational feat in itself to contact, seek permission and coordinate the delicate transport of each piece. Oh, what a fabulous result of all that effort.
I realise art and art galleries are not everyone’s first choice for something to do for fun, but when the artworks are of this quality and significance, it is very easy to make an exception and I encourage you to book a ticket. If you love the Australian great outdoors – both bush and coastline – then you will equally love how Streeton has captured them in his work.
While the doors to exotic international destinations are still closed to us, open your eyes to all the amazing places we have on our very doorstep. The Arthur Streeton Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW will transport you to Cairo, London and Venice – all without the jetlag!
Do you have a favourite artist?
What: At the very start of the Exhibition is a short video explaining Streeton’s life and work. Don’t miss it.
Where: Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery Rd, Sydney.
When: Open daily from 10am-5pm and 10am-10pm on weekends. Book tickets online ($22 for adults) to confirm your time slot. Allow 1.5hours to read most of the labels and even longer if you are a painter or art buff.
Why: To enjoy the artistic skill of a supremely talented painter and to get some culcha.
How: The Gallery is an easy 15-minute walk from the Sydney CBD or bus 441 departs from the York Street side of Queen Victoria Building and drops off near the Gallery. Taxis are also a good option. You need to get there quickly as the exhibition close on 14 February 2021.
Who: Anyone and everyone. The day I visited the Exhibition it was very popular and maintaining social distancing was a bit of a challenge. Wear a mask if you are concerned and visit during the week to avoid the larger crowds.
Related Posts: If you are ready for even more art and culture, then don’t miss the annual Archibald Prize exhibition, also at the Art Gallery of NSW.
Related Blogs: For a more artistic assessment of Arthur Streeton’s work, have a look at what James Gurney has to say.
Read About It: To learn more about Arthur Streeton’s life and work, buy the book! The Art Gallery NSW has published a gorgeous hardcover book to celebrate all things Streeton. Buy it here.
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