Tom Roberts - Famous Paintings and the Stories Behind Them

Jealousy, 1889 - Tom Roberts

1. Jealousy, 1889 

(Other title taken from a line from Othello: 
'One not easily jealous, but being wrought, perplexed in the extreme'.)
He depicts a woman recoiling in horror as she listens to the flirting couple by the doorway.

Tom Roberts is a famous Australian painter known for his significant contributions to Australian art. He played a crucial role in the development of the Heidelberg School, also known as Australian Impressionism, which emerged in the late 19th century.

Self Portrait (Age 30), 1886 - Tom Roberts

Self Portrait (Aged 30), 1886 - is a work of considerable historical importance providing a unique insight into the personality of the artist who was to be acknowledged as 'the father of Australian landscape painting'. It records a significant time both in Roberts's art and his leadership of the then emerging national school of Australian painting.

One of Roberts' most famous paintings is "Shearing the Rams" (1890), which depicts a group of shearers working in a shearing shed. This painting has become an iconic representation of Australian rural life and the country's pastoral industry.

Shearing the Rams, 1890 - Tom Roberts

2. Shearing the Rams, 1890

It 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.

The Golden Fleece, 1894 - Tom Roberts

3. The Golden Fleece, 1894

The painting depicts sheep shearers plying their trade in a timber shearing shed at Newstead North, a sheep station near Inverell on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. The same shed is depicted in another of Roberts' works, Shearing Shed, Newstead (1894).

Shearing Shed, Newstead, 1894

4. Shearing Shed, Newstead, 1894

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.

Allegro con brio, Bourke Street west, 1886 - Tom Roberts

5. Allegro con brio "Bourke Street west", 1886

The painting depicts the western end of Bourke Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Melbourne as seen from the Buckley & Nunn drapery.

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.

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. While in London and Paris, he took in the progressing influence of painters Jules Bastien-Lepage and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Coming South, 1886 - Tom Roberts

6. Coming South, 1886

The painting depicts migrants coming to Australia from Europe aboard a steamship. Roberts based the painting on sketches he had made when returning to Australia aboard the SS Lusitania in 1885 after four years abroad in Europe.

Slumbering Sea, Mentone, 1887 - Tom Roberts

7. Slumbering Sea, Mentone, 1887

An autumn morning, Milson's Point, Sydney, 1888 - Tom Roberts

9. An autumn morning, Milson's Point, Sydney, 1888

Mosman's Bay, 1894 - Tom Roberts

10. Mosman's Bay, 1894

Tom Roberts, along with fellow artists Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin, among others, sought to capture the unique Australian landscape and the spirit of the emerging nation. They ventured outdoors, working en plein air, and depicted scenes of rural life, bush landscapes, and everyday activities. Their paintings often featured the effects of light and color, showing a departure from the more formal and traditional styles of art popular at the time.

A break away!, 1891 - Tom Roberts

11. A break away!, 1891

The painting depicts a mob of thirsty sheep stampeding towards a dam. A drover on horseback is attempting to turn the mob before they drown or crush each other in their desire to drink. The painting, an "icon of Australian art", is part of a series of works by Roberts that "captures what was an emerging spirit of national identity."

Aboriginal Head, Charlie Turner, 1892 - Tom Roberts

12. Aboriginal Head, Charlie Turner, 1892

Bailed Up, 1895 - Tom Roberts

13. Bailed Up, 1895

The painting depicts a stage coach being held up by bushrangers in an isolated, forested section of a back road. The painting is part of the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. and has been described by one former Senior Curator as "the greatest Australian landscape ever painted".

Through his art, Tom Roberts sought to define a distinct Australian identity and showcase the beauty of the Australian landscape. His paintings captured the essence of the Australian bush, its people, and their connection to the land. Roberts' contributions to Australian art and his role in establishing the Heidelberg School have made him a celebrated and influential figure in the country's art history.