Short History of Australian Art

Last week here on Light Future Art, we talked about the evolution and history of Andean artwork. If you’re interested, you can read that blog post here. This week, we’re going to discuss the history of art in Australia.

Early Australian ArtVisual arts have been in Australia for around 30,000 years. The first artworks created by the native Australians were cave and rock paintings. Many of these sites are protected by the Australian government or as UNESCO World Heritage sites. This cave painting art predates similar artworks in Europe, and it is believed that Aboriginal art is some of the oldest in the world. The type of cave artwork varies by region. Some groups preferred abstract artwork that relied on shapes, lines, and dots. Others drew more literally, depicting humans and animals. Others created immensely complex works of art that are thought to reflect the artist’s experience with Dreamtime.


When the British colonized Australia in the late 18th century, the majority of artwork created in Australia became more European. The British colonists were fascinated with the differences in the light between Europe and Australia, as well as the landscapes. The first wave of British artworks created in Australia were landscape paintings. Also popular were scientific and natural history paintings and drawings of the Australian animals and plants. Australia is known for having animals unlike those found anywhere else, so it’s completely understandable that the British were intrigued and wanted to create artwork around these animals. Back in Europe, many scientists believed that the artworks being sent to them were hoaxes.


Early Australian Landscape ArtInterestingly, no professional artists or natural history illustrators were present on the first voyage to Australia. The first artworks of the continent done by Europeans were created by sailors and soldiers.

As Australia became more colonized and wealthy, Europeans began to commission artists to paint the Australian landscapes. The first Australian art school opened in the late 1800s, along with several galleries and museums for Australian art in Melbourne. Throughout the last few decades of the 19th century, landscape artwork continued to be an Australian staple. During the Impressionist era, Australian artists romanticized rural country life and manual labor, which is fitting as during this time much of the country was still a frontier.

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