Works included in this catalogue
Longstaff Portrait of G.F.Folingsby {1891} SLV [PA]
Longstaff after Titian Entombment of Christ {1889} NGV [PA]
Longstaff after Velazquez Aesopus 1890 {1890} NGV [PA]
Longstaff The Sirens {1894} NGV [PA]
Longstaff Gippsland, Sunday night, February 20th, 1898 {1898} NGV [PA]

Pre-Felton works bought on Longstaff’s advice
Demont Don Quixote 1893 {1893} NGV [PA]
Nozal The Seine at St Pierre {1891} NGV [PA]
Souza Pinto In the Fields 1892 {1893} NGV [PA]

Longstaff showed precocious talent while studying under George Folingsby at the NGV Art School. In 1887, he won the inaugural NGV Travelling Scholarship, with Breaking the News (Art Gallery of Western Australia), a picture that clearly reflects his mentor’s taste for dark tonality and staged compositions, while narrating a contemporary rather than historical story.

While in Paris (1887-95), Longstaff fulfilled his scholarship obligations with two copies (including the Velazquez copy, made during a trip to Spain) and The Sirens, an independent composition that gained him great acclaim at both the 1892 Paris Salon and the Royal Academy (1893). He also broadened his scope in this period, spending the summer of 1889 with John Peter Russell in Normandy, and evidently painting en plein air with considerable freedom.

Several of the works by other artists that Longstaff recommended for the NGV while in Paris during the early 1890s reflect the influence of French Impressionism: see in particular the works by Nozal and Souza Pinto noted above.

However, as Elena Taylor (2013) puts it, the “fleeting moment of Impressionism” in Longstaff’s development around 1889-90 soon gave way to the more academic impulse already evident in The Sirens. This became more strongly apparent in his subsequent work in London.

After his permanent return to Australia in 1920, his work settled into what art historian Leigh Astbury calls a “basically academic and conservative” pattern. He became a sought-after traditional portraitist, was knighted in 1928, and eventually became inaugural president of Sir Robert Menzies’ rearguard Australian Academy of Arts (1938-41).


Key references for Longstaff’s career are (by Leigh Astbury; first published in ADB vol.10, 1986; including the comment quoted in the text; with further references); and Taylor, Australian Impressionists in France (2013), esp.pp.37ff. 

For Breaking the News 1887 (bought for the AGWA in 1933), and Folingsby’s influence, see Astbury Sunlight and Shadow (1989), pp.184 and 186, and