With the Federation of Australia in 1901, six self-governing colonies became a unified nation. The previous two decades had been a time of change in Australian art and artists began to talk about an Australian tradition. They sought to establish the validity of local subjects. The 1880s onwards saw a desire to create a national school of art and to develop a local market. Two key themes prevailed during the period of Federation: grand, nationalist pastoral landscapes and figure painting.
The Australian landscape played an important role in the formation of a national identity around the time of Federation. The depiction of honest labour and the majestic eucalypt standing sentinel over an expansive pastoral landscape became a key motif for Federation painters and photographers, including Walter Withers, Frederick McCubbin, Hans Heysen and Florence Fuller. Europe also beckoned Australian artists, who travelled to London and Paris in the hope of establishing a reputation there. Rupert Bunny, George W. Lambert, Hugh Ramsay, Ethel Carrick and E. Phillips Fox were among the many.
They aspired to be hung ‘on the line’ at the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon or to show their work in one of the growing number of more modern exhibition societies. They painted works in a variety of contemporary European approaches. Many, like their French and British colleagues, such as Manet and Whistler, paid homage to Velasquez. Others looked at the work of the French Impressionists and absorbed aspects of their concern with colour and light.