The Edwardians: Secrets and Desires reassesses the art of the Edwardian period. The exhibition shows that the Edwardian era was a time of dramatic change from a period of established order to the beginnings of a more modern world — of social reform, of technological invention and of artistic exploration.
Among Australia’s most loved artists are those who went to Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century to study and live. Many of these artists stayed abroad for two decades and, like Australian film stars of today, became absorbed into the world stage. The Edwardians places the work of these Australian artists in the context of the artists with whom they exhibited and associated, and demonstrates their parallel concerns in painterly approach and subject.
Opening with paintings by James McNeill Whistler, which were so influential on the artists of this period, The Edwardians focuses on figurative paintings by select British, Irish, American and Australian artists from 1900 to 1914. In total the exhibition comprises approximately 140 paintings, sculptures, costumes and fan designs drawn from national and international collections.
The privileged of the Edwardian era lived in a kind of fairytale, rarely acknowledging the harsher and darker side of life. The Edwardians shows how artists dramatised their subjects to portray the glamour and artifice of aristocratic lives. It illustrates how some of the new rich (industrialists and successful businessmen) wanted social credibility and how artists created images to present them and their families in a historical style, demonstrates the changing role of middle-class women from ‘angels in the home’ to more active participants in the world, and points to the liberation of the working classes.
The Edwardians conveys the changes in the stylistic approach to art — from a more tonalist approach to a use of intense bold colours — that took place over the short period of 14 years.
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