University of Tasmania
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Expatriatism : a new platform for shaping Australian artistic practice in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries : a case study of six artists working in Paris and London

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posted on 2023-05-27, 11:58 authored by Rainbird, SG
Expatriatism has become a fact of life for many Australian artists in the twenty-first century. For our painters and sculptors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, the experience of living and working abroad was a quite new phenomenon. In the 1880s, with John Russell's historic journey to Belle-‚àöv©le, a remote French island off the coast of Brittany, it became an emerging trend. Russell forged a pioneering path that many Australian artists followed until 1914, when the outbreak of the First World War provisionally brought expatriatism to an end. This thesis focuses on Australian artistic expatriatism during the period 1880 to 1930, a highpoint for our early artists' engagement with the art worlds of Europe. Paris and London, then the two leading international cities to which most foreign artists flocked, are the principal cultural contexts for the six case studies in this thesis. The work of Rupert Bunny, Ethel Carrick, George Coates, Agnes Goodsir, Bertram Mackennal and John Russell is explored in order to investigate the extent to which expatriatism shaped their creative practice in their adopted cultures. Past histories of Australian art have marginalised expatriatism because it happened 'over there' rather than 'here' and thus did not fit easily into the nationalistic and generally patriarchal narratives the writers constructed. More recent histories, especially those written over the past decade, have been more inclusive, and the subject of artists working abroad has grown to be a critical issue. The 'UnAustralian art' project considering the history of artistic interaction between Australia and the wider world by cultural theorists Rex Butler and A. D. S. Donaldson has broken new ground, and their account has been a vital touchstone for this thesis. In addition to reassessing the value of expatriatism for Australian art, this thesis also addresses two other lacunae, namely the lack of consideration of expatriate women artists in most of the earlier histories and the examination of the subject from the expatriate viewpoint as opposed to the conventional approach through an Australian lens. Until the 1970s male writers penned the discourse on Australian art, which had the deleterious effect of presenting expatriatism as an exclusively masculine experience. This runs counter to my research showing that of all Australian artists travelling abroad prior to 1914 just over a third were women. Furthermore, most Australian literature has presented expatriatism from the homeland perspective, with little consideration of how the artists themselves experienced it. Adopting a method previously untested, a psychocultural approach, giving a central role to the interaction of psychological and cultural factors in the artists' encounter with expatriatism, I explore in this thesis how the major challenges of cultural assimilation and cultural hybridity impacted on the artists' experience, and their importance for their art. The research of key contemporary theorists such as Homi Bhabha, Gerard Bouchard, Montserrat Guibernau and Hajar Yazdiha underpins the investigation. This thesis aims to discover and explain the extent to which the six selected artists adapted to the host cultures, and how this shaped their artistic practice. I demonstrate that each artist assimilated differently, with the degree of merging of his or her Australianness with foreignness (or in the case of Ethel Carrick her British‚Äö- Australianness with French culture) the key to his or her success. Just as cultural hybridity delineated the experience of expatriatism for these artists, so too expatriatism has shaped the history of Australian art. This investigation reveals that it was vital in connecting our expatriates with remarkably progressive cultures, and through their experience and influence considerably broadening the local perspective by contributing a more cosmopolitan, cross-cultural approach to art in Australia.


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