The women artists redefining Australian Impressionist landscapes


In the 1884 painting A summer morning tiff by Australian Impressionist Tom Roberts, the artist centres the romanticism of a lone female figure (said to be Harriet McCubbin) wearing a corseted white dress and framed by dry, golden-hued bushland. In a contemporary reinterpretation of the painting, Sydney-based photographer Anne Zahalka looks at how clothing speaks of cultural implications. As curator Louise Tegart says, Zahalka “compares the fashion of the 19th century with the garb worn by Islamic women, but also draws on the personal experience of . . . living between Morocco and Australia.” It’s reinterpretations like these that define Beating about the Bush.

Combining historical and contemporary perspectives, Beating about the Bush features over 50 works from the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s collection to re-examine our understanding of the Australian landscape and Impressionism movement, and its contentious, colonial history. The show contrasts paintings by Australian Impressionists working in the early 1900s, such as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton, alongside work by 20 contemporary female photographers including Hayley Millar Baker, Tamara Dean, Jane Burton, Maree Clarke and Jacqui Stockdale.

Offering multiple viewpoints influenced by personal experiences of gender, class, immigration and environmental change, representations of the figure in the landscape link many of the works.

A major inspiration for the show was Zahalka’s 1985 exhibition The Landscape Revisited. As Tegart explains, “Zahalka chose to recast characters within the landscape to offer a more inclusive and compassionate portrayal of the people—migrants, First Nations, women, people of non-Christian faiths—missing from Australian Impressionist narratives . . . Her work is as much a comment on society and the art world as it is about the painters themselves.” Such comments abound in Beating about the Bush.

Beating about the Bush
Art Gallery of Ballarat
5 November—19 February 2023

This article was originally published in the November/December 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Briony Downes