Although the landscape and a rural existence were the most popular subjects for Australian artists and writers for many years, most of the population has always lived in urban surroundings. Few early Australian artists took the city and its business as the subject for their art. Louis Tannert’s The Eastern Market, is an interesting exception. It shows the variety of life in the market – on the corner of Bourke and Exhibition Streets in Melbourne – that was demolished in the early 1960s. In the shadowed gas lit and awning-draped market, a great cross-section of city dwellers is shown, from the barefooted urchin to the top-hatted gentlemen. In the hustle and bustle of this busy scene, a young girl waits on a group of diners, while another accompanies her mother shopping for vegetables; a young boy sells newspapers, while another taunts a caged cockatoo. Beyond the market arcades can be seen the sunlit and fashionable Italianate facades of a prosperous city, soon to be known as ‘Marvellous Melbourne’.

Tom Roberts was another artist who depicted city life at the turn of the century, in works such as Allegro con brio, Bourke Street West. The etching Chinese cook shop is Roberts’s most sophisticated and ambitious print. In its composition and the domestic realism of its subject matter Roberts was influenced by James McNeill Whistler’s prints of the late 1850s, but this work is firmly placed in an Australian historical context – emphasised by the later alternative title The opium den. Popular prejudices at the time were anti-Chinese in the wake of the influx of prospectors from China arriving to seek their fortune, and their opium smoking habits were vilified. Early Australian etchers, such as Roberts and John Mather, took the European, especially the French, etching tradition and transposed it to Australian subject matter.

John McPhee1 and Roger Butler

1 John McPhee (ed.), Australian Art in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1988, p.15.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002


  • Title: Paddy's Market
  • Creator: Louis TANNERT
  • Date Created: 1878
  • Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • Physical Dimensions: w830 x h730 cm
  • Type: Painting,oil on canvas
  • Rights: Purchased 1982
  • External Link: National Gallery of Australia

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