Federation Landscapes

During the Federation years the Australian landscape played an important role in the excited imagining of a national identity. From the late nineteenth century Australians had begun to seek out imagery, ideas and ideals that seemed characteristic of their surroundings, and with Federation this quest took on greater purpose and meaning.

Key artists of the era, such as W.C. Piguenit, Hans Heysen and Frederick McCubbin, drew on the traditions of European landscape painting to offer Australians poetic visions of their surroundings. They helped Australians to fall in love with the distinctive qualities of the bush, from a ‘typically Australian’ colour palette to the effects of sunlight and representations of native flora, particularly the gum tree. Similarly, the popularity of images of drovers, shearers and the trials and triumphs of life on the land appealed to the egalitarian ideals of city-dwelling Australians, who then made up almost two-thirds of the population.

As Australians sought out images of their nation, Federation landscapes began to replace nineteenth-century British pictures as public favourites. Spaces dedicated to the display of public collections and exhibitions of Australian art were expanded, and large national exhibitions provided artists all over the country with the opportunity to paint major works. The increase in scale of many works by Federation landscape painters reflects both a sense of national pride and the growing interest in Australian art, generating a veritable boom in the market by 1907.

Image detail: W.C. Piguenit Near Liverpool, New South Wales c. 1908
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, acquired with the assistance of the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2005