200 years of Australian art on show in London

200 years of Australian art on show in London

LONDON - A major exhibition of Australian art opens in London on Saturday, charting 200 years of extraordinary change through the country's relationship with its dramatic landscape.

Twelve rooms at the Royal Academy have been taken over for the show, which includes bark paintings, early colonial watercolours, heroic pioneer scenes and modern works.

The landscape forms a thread that links them all together, from the inhospitable bush portrayed by the early settlers to the abstract indigenous paintings of ceremonial places.

"Two hundred years is a lot of ground to cover," said Kathleen Soriano, the Royal Academy's director of exhibitions.

The exhibition is largely chronological, although it begins with a room of modern interpretations of tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal art, containing rock engravings, body paintings and ceremonial ground designs.

"The first room represents 50,000 years of a culture," Soriano explained.

In one of the most comprehensive surveys of Australian art seen outside the country, the 200 works by 146 artists shine a light on the diversity of its people, its land and how it became the nation it is today.

The earliest colonial art shows a wariness of Australia's terrain, which the first British settlers in 1788 found hard to cultivate, portraying settlements as bright spots in a dark and dangerous landscape.

But the paintings chart how those who survived built railways and raised cattle, and finally began to enjoy the views - and the beach.

Many early works are watercolours in the English tradition, but after the gold rush other Europeans and Chinese began arriving, bringing different styles with them.

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