A group of American Impressionist paintings are on loan from the Met to the Australia where the Queensland Art Gallery has put them on display opposite their Australian contemporaries. The results seem to favor the Aussies, according to Christopher Allen in The Australian:
A hundred years ago, American painting was hardly more significant than Australian. There were brilliant exceptions, notably James McNeill Whistler and John SingerSargent, who established themselves in Europe, and some remarkable figures who stayed at home, such as Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer.
But there were also many competent, often attractive, but minor individuals who will be completely unknown to most Australian visitors to the Queensland Art Gallery’s American Impressionism and Realism, an exhibition of works on loan from the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Just as the National Gallery of Australia’s New Worlds from Old (1998) juxtaposed American and Australian painting of the mid-19th century, American Impressionism sets more or less contemporary works from the two nations side by side; or, rather, facing each other on opposite walls. This allows the viewer to gain, even at a glance, a sense of the aesthetic of one group as distinct from the other, while ensuring works that are in sympathy hang together.
It is fair to say, I hope without being accused of parochialism, that the Australian pictures stand up very well in the comparison. They often appear to have more spine, to be more decisive and clearer in their vision, while many of the American landscapes seem to be about nothing very much and are overly impressionistic (Ernest Lawson), anecdotal (John Sloan) or both (William Glackens).
Strange as it may seem, the American pictures look derivative more frequently than the Australian ones. […]
The essential moment of what traditionally, and less confusingly, has been called the Heidelberg movement was between Tom Roberts’s return to Australia in 1885 and about the mid-1890s. Artists who were not in Australia during those years, such as E. Phillips Fox or John Peter Russell, are much more like the Americans: more closely involved with French impressionism, yet ultimately doomed to be imitators of a style that was no longer even new, since the high point of impressionism in France was roughly from the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s. For example, Childe Hassam’s view of the sea, Surf, Isles of Shoals (1913), is surprisingly similar to some of Russell’s imitations of Monet and not much more successful.
Yet Hassam is the most interesting of the American impressionists. In pictures such as Winter in Union Square (1889-90) or Spring Morning in the Heart of the City (1890), there is a refined sensibility and a constructive intelligence that refuses to surrender to facile dissolution. His Peach Blossoms (1887-89) combines delicacy of observation with anaesthetic sense of decoration in a way that almost exactly matches Charles Conder at his best. […]
There is an even more fundamental difference between the American and Australian contexts that was largely overlooked in discussions of New Worlds from Old. America is an older colonial society than Australia and American character and values, originating as early as the 17thcentury, were firmly established in the later 18thcentury. Australia, on the other hand, founded at the end of the 18th century, was in the process of defining itself all through the 19thcentury. Thus the difference between Australian and American painters of the romantic sublime, such as Eugene von Guerard and Frederick Church respectively, is that the former are concerned with the vital definition of what it means to be Australian, while the latter are dealing with something at the margin of what it is to be American.
Similarly, later painters such as Roberts and Arthur Streeton were energised by their involvement in the process of emerging nationhood, while the American impressionists were unconnected with such social engagement.
In figure painting, the Australians hold up well, and particularly dominate the room devoted to children: Violet Teague and Hugh Ramsay are strong and sensitive; on the other side Mary Cassatt matches the other two only in her fine Mother and Child (c.1899).
High Society (The Australian)