The Julian Ashton Art School is The Sydney Art School

When Julian Ashton arrived in Australia in 1878 it was at a time when colonial art imitated the English watercolour and when young painters like Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts were criticised for depicting the harsh sun-lit landscape.

Julian Ashton was dismayed by this and became the leader in the battle for the recognition of a new, truly Australian art based on the unique qualities of the light of this great south land.

One of his first achievements was, as a Trustee, to convince his fellow trustees at The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) to buy the work of local artists of promise. “Still glides the stream” by Arthur Streeton was the first of these.   As a teacher Ashton was without peer. “There is no better teacher in Paris” said George Lambert.

In 1890 Julian Ashton opened the, now famous, Sydney Art School in Beaumont Chambers, King St.  Celebrated painters who came from this period include Elioth Gruner,  George Lambert,  Thea Proctor,  Adrian Feint,  Syd Long,  Howard Ashton, (Julian`s son) Dorrit Black and J.J.Hilder.

Henry Cornwallis-Gibbons  joined the staff of The Sydney Art School in 1922. He worked closely along side Julian until the  passing of the founder in 1942 at the great age of 96. As a signal of respect for the “Grand Old Man of Australian Art”, as he was known in the art world, the name of the founder was included in its title at this time.  Regarded universally in the art world, to this day, as “The Sydney Art School”, through the work of it’s graduates and teachers, the school’s influence is now seen throughout Australia and overseas.  Henry Gibbons continued to run the school until his retirement in 1960.

William Dobell,  Eric Wilson,  Jean Bellette,  Douglas Dundas,  Arthur Freeman,  William Dadswell,  John Passmore,  Joshua Smith and Max Dupain attended in this period.

In 1933 The Sydney Art School moved to the Rocks where it remains. Among the artists attending in the following decades were John Olsen,  Michael Johnston,  Brett Whiteley,  Nigel Thomson and Salvatore Zofrea.

Howard Ashton’s son, marine artist J. Richard Ashton and his artist wife Wenda ran the School from 1960, when, among many gifted ones, Francis Giacco and Ian Chapman attended, until 1977 when artist J Phillip Ashton (Richard’s son) became Principal, this being the time of Haydn Wilson,  Bill Leak and Paul Newton.

In 1988 the School was incorporated and Paul Ashton Delprat, Julian`s great grandson, himself an ex student, took over its’ running, assisted by his wife, artist Susan Delprat.  It is notable that throughout its’ entire history the school has, without exception, been administered in all its’ detail by practising figurative artists who are also teachers.

This golden thread of many overlapping lives of informed and dedicated artistic scholarship, is regarded as one of the most  important reasons for the school’s success.  This school is proud of its role in setting standards of rigour in drawing and painting.   Having thoroughly  learnt their craft at this atelier based art school our teachers pass on that knowledge directly, to the next, and in many cases, successive generations.

The original policy of The Sydney Art School has been and remains to this day that; “art alone is the language of art”.  The school does not engage with academic analysis, contemporary or otherwise, which, it is seen, is studied best at Universities where language is the dominant means of expression.

In 1989 the SAS/JAAS art school and its antique casts, easels and studio furnishings were classified by The National Trust as a cultural living treasure.

Among a large catalogue of successes, in art competitions in Australia and overseas, students from the school have won the prestigious Melbourne based, A.M.E Bale Travelling Scholarship on ten occasions since 1990.

Norman Lindsay said of the the School; “An educational institution of the highest cultural importance where the students are inspired to emulate the achievements of past students by the very atmosphere in which they worked.”

For a full Biography about Julian Ashton See: Julian Ashton Artist Biography.   His autobiography “Now came Still Evening On” was published by Angus and Robertson.   – See History links below

A Comprehensive HISTORY OF THE SYDNEY ART SCHOOL / JULIAN ASHTON ART SCHOOL  is currently in progress. Researchers welcome all information, including that from SAS/JAAS alumni and the descendants of alumni, to assist in the compilation of this important historic document.  Please send an email on the CONTACT form or telephone the office.         


For further reading on The  History of  The Sydney Art School    The Julian Ashton Art School          (SAS/JAAS) see the downloadable PDFs below

The Historic Rocks Art School

From The Artists Camp A History