Sunday, February 1, 2015

Thomas William Roberts

Shearing the rams
oil on canvas on composition board
122.4 x 183.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

It seems to me that one of the best ideas spoken to an artist is, ‘paint what you love and love what you paint’ and on that I have worked; on so it came that being in the bush and feeling the delight and fascination of the great pastoral life and work, I have tried to express it. (Thomas Roberts)

Thomas William Roberts (1856-1931) was born in Dorchester. When his father died his mother moved the family to Melbourne Australia. He attended the East Collingwood School of Design and, in 1874, at the age of 18 he enrolled in the Gallery School of Design. He worked as a photographer, supplementing his meagre earnings with paintings produced as an evening art student. In 1881 he went to England to study at the Royal Academy in London and toured Spain and France, where he was exposed to Impressionism. In France, he briefly studied at the Academie Julian in 1884 in Paris. Returning to Melbourne in 1885, he founded the first of the artists’ camps in the Australian bush. He took Barbizon and Impressionist ideas and went directly to nature for the inspiration breaking with an older generation of painters that worked in the studio mimicking European motifs in Australian scenes. In 1895 he became the founding member and the first president of the Society of Artists.

He was commissioned to paint the opening of Australia’s First Federal Parliament in 1901 taking two years to complete the project (the painting is 304.5 x 509.2 cm). On completion of the painting he entered what he called his black period having trouble with his eyesight and difficulty finding inspiration to paint. He travelled back to Europe visiting Holland, Italy and England. During the First World War he worked as an orderly in a London Hospital. In 1919 he returned to Melbourne and made painting trips to Sydney, Tasmania and New Zealand. His art would influence generations of Australian painters. His high key impressionist paintings have defined landscape painting in Australia for over 100 years.