Tom Roberts

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Tom Roberts
Tom Roberts, Australian artist, ca. 1895 photographer Talma Studio (4668257926).jpg
Roberts, c. 1895
Born8 March 1856 (1856-03-08)
Dorchester, Dorset, England
Died14 September 1931(1931-09-14) (aged 75)
Kallista, Victoria, Australia
Resting place Illawarra churchyard, near Longford, Tasmania
Elizabeth (Lillie) Williamson(m. 18961928)

Jean Boyes(m. 19281931)
Parent(s)(Father) Richard Roberts (Mother) Matilda

Thomas William "Tom" Roberts (8 March 1856 14 September 1931) was an English-born Australian artist and a key member of the Heidelberg School, also known as Australian Impressionism. After attending art schools in Melbourne, he travelled to Europe in 1881 to further his training, and returned home in 1885, "primed with whatever was the latest in art". [1] He did much to promote en plein air painting and encouraged other artists to capture the national life of Australia. While he is best known for his "national narratives", among them Shearing the Rams (1890), A break away! (1891) and Bailed Up (1895), he also achieved renown as a portraitist.

Heidelberg School Australian art movement

The Heidelberg School was an Australian art movement of the late 19th century. The movement has latterly been described as Australian Impressionism.

Melbourne City in Victoria, Australia

Melbourne is the capital and most populous city of the Australian state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Its name refers to an urban agglomeration of 9,992.5 km2 (3,858.1 sq mi), comprising a metropolitan area with 31 municipalities, and is also the common name for its city centre. The city occupies much of the coastline of Port Phillip bay and spreads into the hinterlands towards the Dandenong and Macedon ranges, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley. It has a population of approximately 4.9 million, and its inhabitants are referred to as "Melburnians".

<i>En plein air</i> act of painting outdoors

En plein air is the act of painting outdoors. This method contrasts with studio painting or academic rules that might create a predetermined look.



Roberts painting The Big Picture TomRobertsUnfinished.jpg
Roberts painting The Big Picture

Roberts was born in Dorchester, Dorset, England, although some mystery surrounds his actual birthdate: his birth certificate says 8 March 1856, whereas his tombstone is inscribed 9 March. [2]

Dorchester, Dorset town in West Dorset in Dorset, United Kingdom

Dorchester is the county town of Dorset, England. It is situated between Poole and Bridport on the A35 trunk route. A historic market town, Dorchester is on the banks of the River Frome to the south of the Dorset Downs and north of the South Dorset Ridgeway that separates the area from Weymouth, 7 miles (11 km) to the south.

Dorset County of England

Dorset is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The ceremonial county comprises the unitary authority areas of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and Dorset. Covering an area of 2,653 square kilometres (1,024 sq mi), Dorset borders Devon to the west, Somerset to the north-west, Wiltshire to the north-east, and Hampshire to the east. The county town is Dorchester which is in the south. After the reorganisation of local government in 1974 the county's border was extended eastward to incorporate the Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch. Around half of the population lives in the South East Dorset conurbation, while the rest of the county is largely rural with a low population density.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Roberts migrated with his family to Australia in 1869 to live with relatives. Settling in Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria. He worked as a photographer's assistant through the 1870s, while studying art at night under Louis Buvelot and befriending others who were to become prominent artists, notably Frederick McCubbin.

Collingwood, Victoria Suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Collingwood is an inner-city suburb of Melbourne, Australia, 3 km north-east of Melbourne's central business district. Its local government area is the City of Yarra. At the 2016 Australian Census, Collingwood had a population of 8,513.

Victoria (Australia) State in Australia

Victoria is a state in south-eastern Australia. Victoria is Australia's smallest mainland state and its second-most populous state overall, making it the most densely populated state overall. Most of its population lives concentrated in the area surrounding Port Phillip Bay, which includes the metropolitan area of its state capital and largest city, Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city. Victoria is bordered by Bass Strait and Tasmania to the south, New South Wales to the north, the Tasman Sea to the east, and South Australia to the west.

Louis Buvelot Swiss painter and photographer

Louis Buvelot, born Abram-Louis Buvelot, was a Swiss-born landscape painter who emigrated to Australia in 1865 and influenced the Heidelberg School of painters.

During this period, his mother had remarried to a man whom Roberts did not get on with. He hence decided to further his art studies, and returned to England for three years of full-time art study at the Royal Academy Schools from 1881 to 1884. He traveled in Spain in 1883 with Australian artist John Russell, where he met Spanish artists Laureano Barrau and Ramon Casas who introduced him to the principles of Impressionism and plein air painting. [2] While in London and Paris, he took in the progressing influence of painters Jules Bastien-Lepage and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. [2]

Laureano Barrau Spanish artist

Laureano Barrau was a Spanish impressionist painter.

Impressionism 19th-century art movement

Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement characterized by relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities, ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles. Impressionism originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s.

Jules Bastien-Lepage French painter

Jules Bastien-Lepage was a French painter closely associated with the beginning of naturalism, an artistic style that emerged from the later phase of the Realist movement.

Through the 1880s and 1890s Roberts worked in Victoria, in his studio at the famous studio complex of Grosvenor Chambers at 9 Collins Street, Melbourne. In 1885 he started painting and sketching excursions to outer suburbs, creating camps at Box Hill and Heidelberg, where he worked alongside McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder, working on representing Australia’s light, heat, space and distance. [2]

Grosvenor Chambers

Grosvenor Chambers at number 9 Collins Street, Melbourne was Australia's first custom built complex of artist's studios.

Box Hill, Victoria Suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Box Hill is a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) east of Melbourne's Central Business District. in the local government area of the City of Whitehorse. At the 2016 Census, Box Hill had a population of 11,395.

Heidelberg, Victoria Suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Heidelberg is a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 12 km north-east of Melbourne's central business district. Its local government area is the City of Banyule. In 2016, Heidelberg had a population of 6,225.

In 1896 he married 36-year-old Elizabeth (Lillie) Williamson and they had a son, Caleb. Many of his most famous paintings come from this period. Roberts was an expert maker of picture frames, and during the period 1903–1914, when he painted relatively little, much of his income apparently came from this work. Roberts spent World War I in England assisting at a hospital. In Australia, he built a house at Kallista, near Melbourne. Elizabeth died in January 1928, and Roberts remarried, to Jean Boyes, in August 1928. He died in 1931 of cancer in Kallista near Melbourne. His ashes are buried in the churchyard at Illawarra near Longford, Tasmania.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Kallista, Victoria Town in Victoria, Australia

Kallista is a locality within Greater Melbourne beyond the Melbourne metropolitan area Urban Growth Boundary, 36 km south-east from Melbourne's central business district. Its local government area is the Shire of Yarra Ranges. At the 2006 Census, Kallista had a population of 1032. Kallista, along with the other towns of the Dandenong Ranges is celebrated for its picturesque natural setting, wealth of heritage houses and gardens, and country atmosphere all within commuting distance to inner Melbourne.

Longford, Tasmania Town in Tasmania, Australia

Longford is a town in the northern midlands of Tasmania, Australia. It lies 145 m above sea level at the convergence of the Macquarie River and the South Esk River, 21 km south of Launceston and a 15-minute drive from the airport. It is just south of the Illawarra Road, a road connecting the Bass and Midland Highways. It has a population of 4,266 and is part of the Northern Midlands Council area. The region is predominantly agricultural, noted for wool, dairy produce and stock breeding.


Holiday sketch at Coogee, 1888, Art Gallery of New South Wales Tom Roberts - Holiday sketch at Coogee - Google Art Project.jpg
Holiday sketch at Coogee, 1888, Art Gallery of New South Wales
Shearing the Rams, 1890, National Gallery of Victoria Tom Roberts - Shearing the rams - Google Art Project.jpg
Shearing the Rams , 1890, National Gallery of Victoria

Roberts painted a considerable number of fine oil landscapes and portraits, some painted at artist camps with his friend McCubbin. Perhaps the most famous in his time were two large paintings, Shearing the Rams , now displayed in the National Gallery of Victoria and The Big Picture , displayed in Parliament House, Canberra. The Big Picture, a depiction of the first sitting of the Parliament of Australia, was an enormous work, notable for the event depicted as well as the quality of Roberts' work.

Shearing the Rams was based on a visit to a sheep station at Brocklesby in southern New South Wales, depicted the wool industry that had been Australia's first export industry and a staple of rural life. When it was first exhibited, there were immediately calls for the painting to enter a public gallery, with a Melbourne correspondent for the Sydney press stating, "if our national gallery trustees were in the least patriotic, they would purchase it." [3] Some critics did not feel that it fitted the definition of 'high art'. However, since the wool industry was Australia's greatest export industry at the time, it was a theme with which many Australian people could identify. In this painting, as one modern reviewer has said, Roberts put his formal art training to work, translating "the classical statuary into the brawny workers of the shearing shed". [4]

Roberts made many other paintings showing country people working, with a similar image of the shearing sheds in The Golden Fleece (1894), [5] a drover racing after sheep breaking away from the flock in A break away! , and with men chopping trees in Wood splitters (1886). Many of Roberts' paintings were landscapes or ideas done on small canvases that he did very quickly, such as his show at the famous 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition in Melbourne, "9 by 5" referring to the size in inches of the cigar box lids on which most of the paintings were done. Roberts had more works on display in this exhibition than anyone else.

In 1888 Roberts met Conder in Sydney and they painted together at Coogee beach. The younger Conder found these painting expeditions influential and decided to follow Roberts to Melbourne later that year to join him and Streeton at their artists’ camp at Heidelberg. While Conder painted Coogee Bay emphasising on the decorative qualities of form and colour, Roberts’ Holiday sketch at Coogee (1888) embodies his primary focus on the landscape’s natural effects. [6] It is an early testament to Roberts’ plein-air ‘impressionist’ technique, which brought out the sun’s glare on the bright blue sea, bleached white sand, dry grass and spindly seaside vegetation.


Roberts' life was dramatised in the 1985 Australian mini series One Summer Again .

A "lost" painting titled Rejected was featured in a 2017 episode of the BBC series Fake or Fortune? . It was determined by experts to be a genuine Roberts, dating from his student years in London. Roberts' granddaughter considered it a self-portrait. If so, it would make it his oldest surviving self-portrait. [7] [8]


A retrospective toured Australia in 1996-97 and another was shown at the National Gallery of Australia from December 2015 - March 2016. [4] [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Australian art is any art made in or about Australia, or by Australians overseas, from prehistoric times to the present. This includes Aboriginal, Colonial, Landscape, Atelier, early-twentieth-century painters, print makers, photographers, and sculptors influenced by European modernism, Contemporary art. The visual arts have a long history in Australia, with evidence of Aboriginal art dating back at least 30,000 years. Australia has produced many notable artists of both Western and Indigenous Australian schools, including the late-19th-century Heidelberg School plein air painters, the Antipodeans, the Central Australian Hermannsburg School watercolourists, the Western Desert Art Movement and coeval examples of well-known High modernism and Postmodern art.

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Charles Conder Australian painter, lithographer and fan-designer.

Charles Edward Conder was an English-born painter, lithographer and designer. He emigrated to Australia and was a key figure in the Heidelberg School, arguably the beginning of a distinctively Australian tradition in Western art.

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Sir Arthur Ernest Streeton was an Australian landscape painter and leading member of the Heidelberg School, also known as Australian Impressionism.

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Box Hill artists camp

The Box Hill artists' camp was a site in Box Hill, Victoria, Australia favoured for plein air painting in the late 1880s by a group of artists who were part of a movement that later became known as the Heidelberg School.

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<i>Shearing the Rams</i> painting by Tom Roberts

Shearing the Rams is an 1890 painting by the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The painting depicts sheep shearers plying their trade in a timber shearing shed. Distinctly Australian in character, the painting is a celebration of pastoral life and work, especially "strong, masculine labour", and recognises the role that the wool industry played in the development of the country.

Thea Proctor Australian artist

Alethea Mary Proctor was an Australian artist.

9 by 5 Impression Exhibition

The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition was an art exhibition in Melbourne, Australia. The exhibition was opened on 17 August 1889 in Buxton's Rooms on Swanston Street and featured 183 works; the majority of which were painted by the Australian impressionists Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton. The exhibition was named for the dimensions of most of the paintings— 9 by 5 inches, the size of a cigar box lid upon which many of the works were painted— and the Impressionist inspiration for the works.

<i>A holiday at Mentone</i> painting by Charles Conder

A holiday at Mentone is an 1888 painting by the Australian artist Charles Conder. The painting depicts a beach in the Melbourne suburb of Mentone on a bright and sunny day. Conder's depiction of people engaged in seaside activities and the brilliant noonday sunshine mark the painting as distinctively Australian in character.

One Summer Again is a 1985 Australian docudrama miniseries about the painter Tom Roberts and the Heidelberg School art movement. Set in and around the city of Melbourne in the late 19th century, the film traces Roberts' career and his relationships with other members of the Heidelberg School, including Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and Frederick McCubbin. Their artists' camps are recreated in authentic bush settings, which one critic described as having "the soft warmth of a McCubbin painting". Film sets true to the period are contrasted with shots of contemporary Melbourne.

<i>Golden Summer, Eaglemont</i> painting by Arthur Streeton

Golden Summer, Eaglemont is an 1889 painting by Australian artist Arthur Streeton. Painted during a summer drought when Streeton was twenty-one years old, it is an idyllic depiction of sunlit, undulating plains in rural Heidelberg on Melbourne's outskirts. Naturalistic yet poetic, and a conscious effort by Streeton to create his most epic work yet, it is a prime example of the artist's distinctive, high-keyed blue and gold palette, what he considered "nature's scheme of colour in Australia". It is one of his most famous works and is considered a masterpiece of Australian Impressionism.

Leon Pole Australian painter

Leon Pole was an Australian artist who was associated with the Heidelberg School art movement, also known as Australian Impressionism.

Louis Abrahams (art patron) art patron

Louis Abrahams was a British-born Australian tobacconist, art patron, painter and etcher associated with the Heidelberg School art movement, also known as Australian Impressionism.

Exhibition of Australian Art in London

The Exhibition of Australian Art in London was a show organised by the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), notably Julian Ashton, and financially supported by the philanthropist Eadith Walker. Held at London's Grafton Galleries between April and September of 1898, it featured 371 artworks made in Australia by 114 artists, and was the first major exhibition of Australian art to occur internationally.


  1. Diggins, Lauraine. The Australian Impressionists. Melbourne: Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, 1988. ISBN   0959274340, back cover
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Tom Roberts". AGNSW collection record. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  3. "Melbourne Gossip". The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney). 19 July 1890. p. 145. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  4. 1 2 McDonald, John (12 December 2015). "Review: John McDonald on Tom Roberts at the National Gallery of Australia, a break-away star". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  5. Roberts, Tom (1894). "The Golden Fleece". AGNSW collection record. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  6. Roberts, Tom (1888). "Holiday sketch at Coogee". AGNSW collection record. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  7. Chenery, Susan (2017-09-03). "Lost for 136 years: 'fake' Tom Roberts painting bought for £7,500 could sell for $1m". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 2017-09-06.
  8. "Tom Roberts, Series 6, Fake or Fortune? - BBC One". BBC. Retrieved 2017-09-06.
  9. "Tom Roberts". National Gallery of Australia. Retrieved 13 December 2015.

Further reading