In the late 1880’s, the Australian Impressionists known as the “Heidelberg School” began to paint on the lids of used cigar boxes as an immediate and portable alternative to linen.
It would forever intertwine the scent of tobacco and oil paint in the mythology of Australian art history. Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and Jane Sutherland, amongst others, used these boards on their frequent painting expeditions. The resulting works would form the first avant-garde painting exhibition in the history of Australian art. The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition was held in the Buxton Rooms on Swanson Street, Melbourne, in August 1889.
While dubiously received by critics, the exhibition caused a sensation in a city that was still basking in wealth from the gold rush years. 183 impressionistic paintings—all roughly nine by five inches in size—were exhibited in the rooms that had been decorated in the fashionable Japonisme aesthetic of the day. The paintings themselves were exquisite—direct recordings of moments of dazzling light and implied detail that captured fleeting moments in life and the landscape. It was an exhibition that clarified the shift in antipodean painting from the more mannered colonial period.
Described at the time by critics as “preliminary sketches”, the works are now regarded as significant examples of Australian landscape painting—tightly held in major institutions throughout the country.
In 2020, the world became isolated, yet, somehow we found new ways to come together through technology. In holding the 9 by 5” painting exhibition at Nanda\Hobbs, we found an old way to build an artistic community. A collective project, this exhibition brings our artists and friends to the walls of the gallery to speak of where we live and how we can share our experience.
Anthony Hodgkinson and Ralph Hobbs