‘all Australian paintings are in some way a homage to Tom Roberts’
Tom Roberts (1856–1931) was a great Australian artist. He is arguably one of Australia’s best-known and most loved artists, standing high amongst his talented associates at a vital moment in local painting. His output was broad-ranging, and includes landscapes, figures in the landscape, industrial landscapes and cityscapes. He was also Australia's leading portrait painter of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition, he made a small number of etchings and sculptures and in his later years he painted a few nudes and still lifes.
He was born in Dorchester, Dorset, in the south of England and passed his first 12 years there. But he studied at the National Gallery Schools, Melbourne and spent almost half of his life in Australia. It was the key subject of his art, and indeed, he made a major contribution to the creative depiction of this land and of our understanding of it.
Working together with Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder from 1885 to 1897, Roberts was part of the legendary group of Australian artists: the Australian Impressionists. With one or other of them he painted outdoors at Box Hill, Mentone (Beaumaris), Eaglemont (Heidelberg) and Little Sirius Cove, producing some of Australia’s most loved works of art.
Roberts travelled widely around Australia, and particularly to sheep stations in rural New South Wales. There he produced some truly iconic works – Shearing the rams, A break away!, The Golden Fleece and Bailed up – works that are now embedded in the Australian psyche, as he intended.
An original thinker, Roberts had a breadth of view. He was a born leader and mentor to younger painters, having an impact on his contemporaries, McCubbin, Streeton, Conder and Jesse Traill, and also on later Australian artists such as Elioth Gruner, Lloyd Rees, Arthur Boyd and Fred Williams.