In the fiery furnace: Streeton’s Fire’s On, 1891

Nationalism and Impressionism were the big ideas for artists in Melbourne when Arthur Streeton was a young student. In 1888 Australia celebrated the nation's centenary of its colonisation by Britain. New painting, not yet seen in the original, was understood to be Frenchified, loosely-handled landscape executed en plein air (outdoors); although today we prefer to categorise such middle-of-the road work as Naturalism, the young Australians sometimes then called themselves Impressionists. Streeton, in 1891, aged 24, produced what remains his most important work, a subject of strong masculine labour in which the figures have shrunk to ant-like accents in a peculiarly heat-baked Australian landscape where the land itself has become a violent animist force, and murderous.

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