Most Famous Paintings by Australian Artists

Australia, with its humble people has produced many world class painters which the world look up to. A great number of notable painting from Australia relates to nature, thanks to its diverse range of habitats from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests, and is recognised as a megadiverse country.

We listed 23 of the most famous paintings from Australian artists which I personally enjoyed because of its laid back and country feel.

1. Spring Frost - Elioth Gruner

Spring Frost is an 1919 painting by the Australian artist Elioth Gruner. The painting depicts a small herd of dairy cows in the early morning. Gruner's most well-known painting, Spring Frost was awarded the Wynne Prize in 1919.

Spring Frost was largely painted en plein air at Emu Plains—now an outer western suburb of Sydney but then a rural area—on the farm built by Isaac Innes and inherited by his son Jim Innes. It is Jim Innes in this painting with his cattle. Elioth Gruner's painting 'Morning Light' also shows this farm. To compose the painting Gruner built a small structure on site to protect the canvas and, to avoid frostbite, he wrapped his legs with chaff bags.

There is a sense in this startling and surprisingly complex picture of a mature artist, who is also at once a wilful child, wanting to gaze directly at the sun, to revel and roll in the sun, to be exposed to, and by, the sun. In the passages where he paints its pure light, for example in the sky, shrub edges and the dew-wet grass, Gruner surrenders to this sensual, if potentially destructive, instinct. In so doing, he creates a work which is actually far less realistic than we think, less anecdotal, too.
— Sydney Morning Herald,

2. The Pioneer - Frederick McCubbin

The Pioneer is a 1904 painting by Australian artist Frederick McCubbin. The painting is a triptych; the three panels tell a story of a free selector and his family making a life in the Australian bush. It is widely considered one of the masterpieces of Australian art.

The left panel shows the selector and his wife settling on their selection; in the foreground the woman is deep in thought. In the centre panel, the baby in the woman's arms indicates that some time has elapsed. A cottage, the family home, can be seen in a clearing through the trees. The right panel shows a young man standing over a grave. A city is visible in the background, again indicating that time has passed. It is unclear if the young man is the baby from the centre panel or a stranger stumbling across the grave.

View Frederick McCubbin's Biography and Paintings

3. Down on His Luck - Frederick McCubbin

Down on His Luck is an 1889 painting by the Australian artist Frederick McCubbin. It depicts a seemingly disheartened swagman, sitting by a campfire sadly brooding over his misfortune. According to an 1889 review, "The face tells of hardships, keen and blighting in their influence, but there is a nonchalant and slightly cynical expression, which proclaims the absence of all self-pity ... McCubbin's picture is thoroughly Australian in spirit." The surrounding bush is painted in subdued tones, reflecting his somber and contemplative mood.

The artist's model was Louis Abrahams, a friend and successful tobaccanist in Melbourne who earlier supplied the cigar box lids for the famous 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition. The scene was staged near the Box Hill artists' camp outside Melbourne, but it is thought that McCubbin would have made additional studies of Abrahams under studio conditions.

View Frederick McCubbin's Biography and Paintings

4. A break away! - Tom Roberts

The painting depicts a mob of thirsty sheep stampeding towards a dam. A drover on horseback is attempting to turn the mob before they drown or crush each other in their desire to drink. The painting, an "icon of Australian art", is part of a series of works by Roberts that "captures what was an emerging spirit of national identity."

Roberts painted the work at Corowa. The painting depicts a time of drought, with little grass and the soil kicked up as dust. The work itself is a reflection on the pioneering days of the pastoral industry, which were coming to an end by the 1890s

View Tom Roberts' Biography and Paintings

5. The Big Picture - Tom Roberts

The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York (later H.M. King George V), May 9, 1901, more commonly known in Australia as The Big Picture, is a 1903 painting by the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The painting, measuring 304.5 by 509.2 centimetres (119.9 in × 200.5 in), or roughly 10 by 17 feet, depicts the opening of the first Parliament of Australia at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne on 9 May 1901.

The painting is part of the Royal Collection but has been on permanent loan to the Parliament of Australia since 1957. The work, currently on display in Parliament House, Canberra, has been described as "undoubtedly the principal work of art recording Australia's Parliamentary History.

6. Bailed Up - Tom Roberts

The painting depicts a stage coach being held up by bushrangers in an isolated, forested section of a back road. The painting is part of the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. and has been described by the former Senior Curator as "the greatest Australian landscape ever painted".

View Tom Roberts' Biography and Paintings

7. Golden Summer, Eaglemont - Arthur Streeton

Golden Summer, Eaglemont is an 1889 painting by Australian artist Arthur Streeton. Painted during a summer drought when Streeton was twenty-one years old, it is an idyllic depiction of sunlit, undulating plains in rural Heidelberg on Melbourne's outskirts. Naturalistic yet poetic, and a conscious effort by Streeton to create his most epic work yet, it is a prime example of the artist's distinctive, high-keyed blue and gold palette, what he considered "nature's scheme of colour in Australia". It is one of his most famous works and is considered a masterpiece of Australian Impressionism.

Ahead of its auction in Australia in 1924, Lionel Lindsay extolled the work in the hope that it would enter a public gallery:

This tranquil landscape, so simply yet so exquisitely fashioned, possesses for Australians a sentiment no other people may equally enjoy. It is the first great Australian landscape, untrammeled by picture making formula, to come from the hand of the native born. It is, therefore, historically the most important landscape in Australia.

8. The cricketers - Russell Drysdale

The cricketers is a 1948 painting by the Australian artist Russell Drysdale. The painting depicts three boys set among the buildings in an empty town; two playing cricket and the other watching them. The National Gallery of Australia describes the painting as "one of the most original and haunting images in all Australian art." The Sydney Morning Herald said the work is "possibly the most famous Australian painting of the 20th century."

9. Collins St., 5 pm - John Brack

Collins St., 5 pm is a 1955 painting by Australian artist John Brack. The painting depicts office workers walking along busy Collins Street in Melbourne after finishing work for the day—"Blank-faced office workers hurry by like sleep-walkers, thinking only of the pubs or their homes in the suburbs". Brack conceived the work after reading T. S. Elliot's The Waste Land. It is considered a companion piece to Brack's earlier work, The Bar.

The painting was purchased from Peter Bray Gallery for the National Gallery of Victoria's permanent Australian art collection and is exhibited in the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square in Melbourne.

Looking back on his iconic picture ... Brack found it to be “totally unsatisfactory”, because of the condescending attitude he adopted in relation to the people in the street. “I should have known,” he said, “that their lives were just as complex as mine, if not more so.”

10. The Sunny South - Tom Roberts

The Sunny South is a 1887 painting by the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The painting depicts a group of boys swimming naked at Ricketts Point at Beaumaris, Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne.

11. The Golden Fleece - Tom Roberts

The Golden Fleece, originally known as Shearing at Newstead, is an 1894 painting by the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The painting depicts sheep shearers plying their trade in a timber shearing shed at Newstead North, a sheep station near Inverell on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. The same shed is depicted in another of Roberts' works, Shearing Shed, Newstead (1894).

The painting was originally titled Shearing at Newstead but was renamed The Golden Fleece after the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology to honour the wool industry and the nobility of the shearers. This was in keeping with Roberts' conscious idealisation of the Australian pastoral worker and landscape.

The painting, said to be "an icon of Australian art",is part of the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

12. In a corner on the Macintyre - Tom Roberts

In a corner on the Macintyre (Thunderbolt in an encounter with police at Paradise Creek) is a 1895 painting by the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The painting is thought to depict the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt in a shootout with police.

Roberts painted the picture while staying at Newstead, a station near Inverell, New South Wales, where he also painted his other significant bushranging work Bailed up.

13. Bourke Street - Tom Roberts

Bourke Street is a 1886 painting by Australian artist Tom Roberts. Roberts originally titled the work Allegro con brio. The painting depicts the western end of Bourke Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Melbourne as seen from the Buckley & Nunn drapery.

The work was painted a few months after Roberts' return to Australia in 1885, after he had spent four years in Europe. It was not displayed until 1890, and only five days beforehand, Roberts added three female figures to the lower left. Roberts was unable to find a buyer and handed the painting to fellow artist, Frederick McCubbin. In 1920, McCubbin's widow sold the painting to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library for 20 guineas—forwarding the proceeds to Roberts, who was in London at the time.

View Tom Roberts' Biography and Paintings

14. On the Wallaby Track - Frederick McCubbin

On the wallaby track is a 1896 painting by the Australian artist Frederick McCubbin. The painting depicts an itinerant family; a woman with her child on her lap and a man boiling a billy for tea. The painting's name comes from the colloquial Australian term "On the wallaby track" used to describe itinerant rural workers or "swagmen" moving from place to place for work. The work has been described as "among the best known and most popularly admired of Australian paintings".

McCubbin painted the work near his residence in Brighton, Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne. He used his family as models—his wife Annie for the woman and his young son John for the baby. Michael Moriaty, Annie's younger brother was the model for the man.

A infra-red photograph of the painting revealed that the head of the woman was originally painted facing the viewer and only later turned to face away.

The painting is popularly known in Australia for its use in an advertisement for Kit Kat chocolate bars.

View Frederick McCubbin's Biography and Paintings

15. The Sock Knitter - Grace Cossington Smith

The Sock Knitter is a 1915 painting by the Australian artist Grace Cossington Smith. The painting depicts a woman, believed to be the artist's sister, knitting a sock. It was the first work by Cossington Smith to be exhibited and has been "acclaimed as the first post-impressionist painting to be exhibited in Australia."

The figure is pressed forward onto the picture plane. Tightly constructed. The creamy impasto paint of the backgrounds holds the picture together. The sitter then holds the background together. Like a jigsaw. She is the pattern maker. There are echoing triangles everywhere.
— Julia Ritson, 

The work was included in the Follow the Flag exhibition held at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2015. Exhibition material stated that The Sock Knitter "has come to symbolise Australian women’s contribution to the [First World War] effort, which included knitting more than 1.3 million pairs of socks".

16. Coming South - Tom Roberts

Coming South is a 1886 painting by the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The painting depicts migrants coming to Australia from Europe aboard a steamship. Roberts based the painting on sketches he had made when returning to Australia aboard the SS Lusitania in 1885 after four years abroad in Europe.

Historian Humphrey McQueen describes Coming South as one of Roberts' seven best-known paintings. The National Gallery of Victoria describes it as "a definitive image of the migrant experience" and "Roberts's first exploration of one of the great themes of Australian life".

17. Wood splitters - Tom Roberts

Wood splitters is a 1886 painting by the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The painting depicts three rural labourers "splitting and stacking timber for the preparation of charcoal". Roberts, influenced by the Barbizon school and Jules Bastien-Lepage, would later return to the theme of rural men working in his works A break away! and Shearing the Rams.

Roberts painted the picture from sketches made at a camp he made with Frederick McCubbin at Box Hill, then a rural locality east of Melbourne.

The painting was acquired by the Art Gallery of Ballarat in 1961. The work was stolen from the gallery in 1978. A ransom was paid the following year for the safe recovery of the painting from a park in Sydney.

18. Shearing the Rams - Tom Roberts

Shearing the Rams is an 1890 painting by the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The painting depicts sheep shearers plying their trade in a timber shearing shed. Distinctly Australian in character, the painting is a celebration of pastoral life and work, especially "strong, masculine labour", and recognises the role that the wool industry played in the development of the country.

One of the best-known and most-loved paintings in Australia, Shearing the Rams has been described as a "masterpiece of Australian impressionism" and "the great icon of Australian popular art history".

19. Earth's Creation - Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Earth's Creation is a painting by the Australian Aboriginal artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye. It was painted in 1994 at Utopia, north east of Alice Springs.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye was a senior Anmatyerre woman, who only commenced painting when she was aged about 80. In the following eight years she produced an astonishing 3,000 or more paintings; an average of one painting per day.

Earth's Creation is described as part of her "high-colourist" phase. It is regarded as one of the artist's masterpieces, representing in her words the 'whole lot... everything' - Earth's Creation. The swirling blues, greens and yellows evoke what Kngwarreye called the "green time", after the rains come and the bush erupts with new life in her country, Alhalkere. She painted with a 'dump dot' technique, also known as ‘dump dump’, using her brush to pound the acrylic paint onto the canvas and create layers of colour and movement.

20. Sofala - Russell Drysdale

Sofala is a 1947 painting by Australian artist Russell Drysdale. The painting depicts the main street of the New South Wales town of Sofala. The painting won the Wynne Prize for 1947. The Art Gallery of New South Wales describe the work as "one of [his] finest paintings, representing the artist at the height of his powers." and that "the painting transcends literal description of a particular place to become an expression of the quintessential qualities of an inland Australian country town".

Drysdale painted the work after a trip in 1947 with fellow painter Donald Friend to the country around Bathurst, including the villages of Hill End and Sofala. In Sofala, Drysdale made some sketches of the main street and took some photographs. On return to Sydney, both Friend and Drysdale worked on a painting of the main street. Friend said of Drysdale:

[Drysdale], in a frenzy of painting, unusual for him, worked on the final stages of his picture of Sofala's main street which he has been painting every day since last weekend. It is very good and makes my own picture...look pretty foolish, shallow and flimsy.
— Donald Friend, 

21. The Bridge in Curve - Grace Cossington Smith

The Bridge in Curve is a 1930 painting by Australian artist Grace Cossington Smith. The painting depicts the Sydney Harbour Bridge during its construction. It is now considered one of Australia's best modernist paintings, but it was rejected from an exhibition in 1930.

According to the National Gallery of Australia, Smith painted The Bridge in Curve, which is based on drawings made at Milsons Point on the North Shore, during an important phase of her career as an artist, when the importance of colour and the application of paint in small strokes gave her paintings a "brilliant vitality". Smith had become interested in colour theory and used this painting as an opportunity to demonstrate it with the blue and white of the sky contrasting with the more earthy colours of the buildings and vegetation.

22. Warlugulong - Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

Warlugulong (1977) is an acrylic on canvas painting by Indigenous Australian artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri.Owned for many years by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the work was sold by art dealer Hank Ebes on 24 July 2007, setting a record price for a contemporary Indigenous Australian art work bought at auction when it was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia for A$2.4 million. The painting illustrates the story of an ancestral being called Lungkata, together with eight other dreamings associated with localities about which Clifford Possum had traditional knowledge. It exemplifies a distinctive painting style developed by Papunya Tula artists in the 1970s, and blends representation of landscape with ceremonial iconography. Art critic Benjamin Genocchio describes it as "a work of real national significance [and] one of the most important 20th-century Australian paintings".

23. Art, Life and the other thing - Brett Whiteley

Art, Life, and the other thing is an Archibald Prize-winning 1978 painting by Australian artist Brett Whiteley which combines three different media in a triptych.

The middle canvas depicts Brett Whiteley himself standing side-on to the onlooker, his head in motion and his hands grasping. In one hand, a black-and-white image of Joshua Smith by William Dobell; in the other, a paint brush, as he is painting this picture. His body runs vertically to the canvas with the left hand side being almost empty. The features of the figure are disoriented and exaggerated especially in the head, where Whiteley is showing movement. Because of this movement, the head appears very abstract. The arms, legs and torso are unrealistically long and lanky. The body is clothed in a two-piece outfit, all in white. As the head turns it becomes more real and solid, going from a mass of blurred lines on the left to being almost photo-realistic on the right. To add to the realism, Whiteley had added his own hair to the piece on the right-hand side. The background colour is light orange.

Source: Wikipedia and