Beyond the Placemats – the sprawling new art exhibition ‘She-oak and Sunlight’ celebrates the classics while deepening our understanding of Australian Impressionism and rebranding ‘The Heidelberg School’

Saved: ‘Spring’ by Arthur Streeton is one of the classic Australian paintings reclaimed by Michael Varcoe-Cocks, Associate Director of Conservation at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Now on show at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square is She-oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism, a sprawling exhibition of more than 250 works.

Some of the paintings on show are deeply embedded in the public consciousness, with the works of artists such as Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton regarded as such icons of Australiana they can be seen on tea towels and placemats as well as on the walls of art galleries.

While celebrating these works, the exhibition also aims to refocus attention on many lesser known paintings and artists whose significant contribution to Australian art warrants reappraisal.

The works of women artists are highlighted, as is the work of indigenous artist William Barak, whose paintings provide some cultural perspective to the many masterpieces on show.

One of the most important aspects of the exhibition is that it exposes how the commonly used term “The Heidelberg School’ is something of a misnomer.

As Dr Anne Gray, guest curator of the exhibition, explains, there was no “school”, they never all studied together as a group and much of their artistic endeavours took place at Eaglemont, which is near Heidelberg.

This might prove annoying to those in possession of very expensive art books that have “The Heidelberg School” proudly emblazoned on their shiny covers.

That minor irritation aside, She-oak and Sunlight is a splendid presentation.

This coverage of the exhibition is presented in three parts:
(1) a brief overview by the curators;
(2) a complete walk-through of the media preview containing all expert commentary:
(3) a compilation of the full interviews with the curators. Be warned: you will hear of an amateur’s noble attempt to preserve an Australian masterpiece that nearly destroyed it. The story might well leave you horror-stricken.

Please enjoy.

She-oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism is on at the Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square, until Sunday 22 August.