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Aust impressionists on display in London

AAP logoAAP 6/12/2016 Lloyd Jones, AAP London Correspondent

The first exhibition in the UK to focus solely on Australian impressionist painters and their distinct portrayal of late 19th Century Australia is opening for a 15-week run at London's National Gallery.

A total of 41 works painted between 1884 and 1904 by Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and John Russell will be on display in the gallery from Wednesday until March 26 next year.

It is believed to be the first exhibition of Australian art to be shown in the gallery, with only one Australian work, by Streeton, previously hung there.

The exhibition highlights the impact of European impressionism on Australian painting of the 1880s and 1890s and how a distinct Australian impressionism emerged as painters worked in the open air to capture scenes of daily life and the light and colour of the Australian landscape.

Their work tied in with an Australia that was forging its own distinct sense of national identity.

The featured works come from several Australian galleries and include Streeton's Fire's On, showing the body of worker Edward Brown being carried out of a rail tunnel in the Blue Mountains after he was killed by a dynamite blast in 1891.

Tom Robert's Bourke Street West from 1886 is also on display, showing horse cabs and shoppers on one of prosperous Melbourne's bustling thoroughfares in glaring Australian sunlight.

Roberts, a key figure in the Heidelberg school of painters in Melbourne, had embraced the practice of painting in the open air while studying art in Europe and in London was influenced by American artist James McNeill Whistler and others.

Michael Brand, director of Art Gallery NSW which helped mount the exhibition, said displaying highlights of what is seen to be the first Australian art movement to a large art-going audience at the National Gallery on London's Trafalgar Square was "hugely significant".

The Australian impressionists remain largely unknown outside Australia and the exhibition aims to mark them out as international artists who made their own distinct mark.

"Imagine what these young artists would have felt in the 1890s to have known that their work would eventually be hung in the National Gallery," Mr Brand told AAP at the gallery.

At the gallery on Tuesday was Streeton's great granddaughter, Olivia Streeton, an artist herself working in London.

"I'm so proud, it's a coup really because Streeton was always never quite accepted in the established art world (in London) and here he is in the National Gallery hanging alongside some of his dearest friends and other great painters," she told AAP.

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