Conder, Streeton and Roberts were leaders of the Heidelberg School of painters, which hit its stride in the late 1880s - a time of a growing national self-consciousness. With a heightened sense of what it meant to be 'Australian' came a desire to capture the Australian landscape, in particular the unique light, in fully modern ways. The landmark 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition of 1889 introduced Melbourne society to 'Impressionism' through around 180 oil sketches, many painted on cigar box tops of around 9x5 inches. These owed more to London's avant-garde than to French Impressionism, and in particular to Whistler, whose works Roberts had seen in London in 1884. Russell spent his working life in Europe, particularly France, in the company of Van Gogh, Monet and Rodin. While his talents as a colourist made a deep impression on the young Matisse, his innovative art was only rediscovered in the later twentieth century.
Christopher Riopelle is curator of post-1800 paintings and Allison Goudie is Harry M. Weinrebe Curatorial Assistant, both at the National Gallery, London. Tim Bonyhady is an Australian lawyer, cultural historian, and author. Sarah Thomas is Lecturer in the Art of the 19th Century, Birkbeck College, University of London. Alex J. Taylor is assistant professor of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh. Wayne Tunnicliffe is head of Australian art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.