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Tom Roberts

Tom Roberts
Portrait taken c.1920–1925
Born 9 March 1856 (1856-03-09)
Dorchester, Dorset, England
Died 14 September 1931(1931-09-14) (aged 75)
'Talisman' in Kallista
Resting place Illawarra churchyard, near Longford, Tasmania
Other names Nickname Bulldog
Occupation Artist
Spouse(s) Elizabeth (Lillie) Williamson (m. 1896–1928)
Jean Boyes (m. 1928–31)
Parent(s) (Father) Richard Roberts (Mother) Matilda

Thomas William "Tom" Roberts (9 March 1856 – 14 September 1931) was a prominent Australian artist and a key member of the Heidelberg School.


  • Life 1
  • Work 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Gallery 4


Roberts painting The Big Picture

Born in Dorchester, Dorset, England, where his parents were newspaper editors, 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. He returned to England for three years of full-time art study at the Royal Academy Schools from 1881 to 1884.

Through the 1880s and 1890s he worked in Victoria, in his studio at the famous studio complex of Grosvenor Chambers at 9 Collins Street in Melbourne, and at a number of artists' camps and visits around the colony. He married 35-year-old Elizabeth (Lillie) Williamson in 1896, 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.

He spent World War I in England assisting at a hospital. In Australia, he built a house at Kallista, near Melbourne. This was a particularly productive and happy period in Roberts' life.

Elizabeth died in January 1928, and Tom remarried, to Jean Boyes, in August 1928. He died in 1931 of cancer in Kallista near Melbourne. He is buried near Longford, Tasmania.


Shearing the Rams (1890; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)

Roberts painted a considerable number of fine oil landscapes and portraits, some painted at artist camps with his friend McCubbin, but perhaps his most famous works, in his time, were two large works, Shearing the Rams and The Big Picture.

Shearing the Rams, based on a visit to a sheep station (large farm) 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. At the time it was exhibited, it was criticized because many 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 which many Australian people could identify with. The painting showed a view of the shearing sheds which was not in some cases realistic. Shearing would probably have been much messier; for instance the shearer on the left has picked the ram up to move it, when normally it would have been dragged backwards.he also went to heidelberg school from 1882-1885.

Coming South

Roberts loved this theme because it valued the work of ordinary Australian people. He made many other paintings showing country people working, with a similar image of the shearing sheds in The Golden Fleece, a drover racing after sheep breaking away from the flock in A break away!, and with men chopping trees in Wood splitters. Many of Roberts' paintings were landscapes or ideas done on small canvases that he did very quickly, such as his exhibits at the famous "9 by 5 Impression Exhibition" in Melbourne, "9 by 5" referring to the size in inches of the cigar box lids which most of the paintings were done on. Roberts had more works on display in this exhibition than anyone else. Many of the paintings had humorous touches and anecdotes, showing Roberts' sense of humor.

The Big Picture, a depiction of the first sitting of the Parliament of Australia, was an enormous work, very notable for the event depicted as well as the quality of Roberts' work. Many examples of Roberts' work can be seen at the National Gallery of Australia, but The Big Picture is displayed at Parliament House, Canberra.

"Holiday Sketch at Coogee" was painted whilst in Sydney, Roberts met Charles Conder and the two became friends, painting together at Coogee beach.

'Holiday sketch at Coogee' is a celebration of the white sand and blue water of this popular promenade and bathing site, especially the intensity of Sydney sunlight.

Poppies, 1921

Roberts' time in Sydney proved extremely influential on the young artist, and Conder followed him to Melbourne later that year to join the group of artist friends at Heidelberg.[4]

Roberts painted "An autumn morning, Milson's Point" during a visit to Sydney in early 1888. The painting depicts the northern shores of the harbour that were only accessible by ferry at this time. A contemporary reviewer attributed the murky colour of the air to the pollution as a result of burning coal. Later, Roberts himself lived and painted in this area whilst staying in Mosman at Curlew Camp, Sirius Cove, during the early 1890s.[5]

"The Camp, Sirius Cove" was painted in 1899 and depicts the artists camp. [6]


His life was dramatised in the 1985 mini series One Summer Again.


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