Sir Arthur Streeton, founding father of the 'Heidelberg School' and one of the most important Australian Impressionists, began his artistic career in Melbourne in the early 1880s. In this decade 'Marvellous Melbourne' was booming and in the midst of a period of great social and economic transformation. Artists John Ford Paterson, Ugo Catani and Girolamo Nerli moved to the city, and Tom Roberts and Walter Withers returned from overseas. The exchange of ideas from across the globe was enhanced by the availability of printed reproductions and displays at the International Exhibition of 1880 and at the Victorian Artists' Society. These influences infused Australian art of the time, and encouraged new ways of seeing amongst Streeton and his fellow artists.
Streeton, together with Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder, declared his intention at the key 9x5 Impression Exhibition in Melbourne in 1889, to "render faithfully, and thus obtain first records of effects widely differing, and often of very fleeting character." This translated into a new vision of the Australian landscape, one in which the Australian bush was endowed with beauty and significance equal to the landscapes of the northern hemisphere.
Still Glides the Stream and Shall Forever Glide, purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1890, raised Streeton to a new prominence in the eyes of the Australian public, and The Purple Noon's Transparent Might, painted in 1896, cemented his position. In 1898, Streeton left for England, buoyed by his popular and critical acclaim, and continued to divide his time between Europe and Australia until 1923, eventually settling in the Dandenong Ranges.
Barnes Common, Surrey was painted by Streeton in 1910, and his letters around this time reveal a fondness for the landscape of his new homeland. Of his garden in Abbey Road in North London, Streeton wrote "we have such a comfortable home and a little garden at the back, full of Canterbury bells and tall spiry foxgloves, and lillies, and a vine covering the wall, and 2 lovely bay trees in the centre of the tiled court." (letter to Frederick Delmer, 1 July 1908, in A. Galbally, ed. Letters from Smike, Melbourne, 1989, p.113).
Barnes Common, Surrey captures the essence of an English summer's day in this small public park to the south-west of London. A mother and child rest in the sunshine, while geese move towards a small pool of water. Their movement, the vivid greens of the leaves and grass, and the luxurious flowers of the Horse Chestnut trees imbue this idyllic scene with life and charm.
Streeton would continue to paint images of English gardens, encouraged by an important commission from Sir Robert Mond in 1913, which included The Lake, Coombe Banks, Surrey (1913, National Gallery of Victoria collection) and later, upon his return to Australia, would return to the theme with a series of flowerpieces and house and garden portraits, including Garden Corner, Grange Road (1929, Private collection) and Garden Green (1940, Private collection).