Australian artist Sydney Long was born on 20 August 1871 at Ifield, Goulburn, New South Wales. After moving to Sydney as a young man, he initially found work with a wine and spirit merchant. Long undertook formal art classes in 1890 at the New South Wales Art Society and participated in painting camps along the Nepean River near Richmond. In 1894 his Heidelberg-School influenced work 'By Tranquil Waters' was met with controversy. However, when the Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased the painting, Julian Ashton, a Trustee of the Gallery and founder of his Julian Ashton Art School was impressed with Long’s work.
Although influenced by the Heidelberg School, Long's first successful painting, 'By Tranquil Waters,' demonstrates a departure from the artistic representation of the Australian scene favoured by his contemporaries. While other Heidelberg artists of the time, including Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin, portrayed the toil and struggle that took place within the Australian Bush, Long's depiction of young naked bathers exudes self-indulgence and understated eroticism. It was this implied eroticism which drew the scandalous criticism. From 1895 Long further distanced his work from the Heidelberg School's Australian landscape style. Rather than merging Victorian genre painting with plein air informal realism, Long aimed for "soulful and graceful evocations of the spirit of the land, as did the Greeks and their beautiful myths." His approach gave birth to a new school of Australian Paganism which was reflected not only in the art scene, but also in literary works of the time, notably by brothers Lionel and Norman Lindsay.
It is widely acknowledged that Long's most successful work in this new style was his 1897 painting, 'The Spirit of the Plains.' He used fluid patterns and the pastel colours of Art Nouveau to paint evocative representations of the Australian bush as the contrarian backdrop for a naked Grecian wood-nymph leading a procession of dancing brolgas. Long’s 1898 work 'Pan', created in a similar style, was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In the same year the artist was briefly engaged to Thea Proctor. In 1907 Ashton appointed Long as his second in command in his influential school.
Long’s post-1897 works were very popular and afforded him the financial backing to realise his long-held dream of returning to London in 1910 to further his artistic studies. By 1910, Long’s paintings held the merest hint of his earlier Australian poetic landscapes.
From 1914 Long embraced the craft of printmaking and quickly established himself as an accomplished printmaker. He often converted his images into etchings. Long was appointed as an associate of the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers. He also travelled throughout France, Belgium and Holland. In 1921 Long returned to Australia and was a founding member of the Australian Painters, Etchers and Engravers Society.
Long returned to live and paint in England in 1922. In 1925 he returned to Australia, settling in Sydney’s Lane Cove. He was appointed President of the Australian Painters, Etchers and Engravers Society and remained at the forefront of the Australian etching boom until its collapse in the mid-1930s. Long turned once again to painting and was awarded the Wynne Prize in both 1938 and in 1940. He served as director of the Society for many years, while continuing in his role as an art teacher. In 1952 Sydney Long returned once again to England and died in London on 23 January 1955.