Tuesday, March 8, 2011

THE FATHER OF AUSTRALIAN LANDSCAPE PAINTING




Tom Roberts, before 1925
By unknown photographer
Source National Library of Australia
From en.wikipedia.org


Thomas William Roberts (9 March 1856 – 14 September 1931), usually known simply as Tom, was a prominent Australian artist and a key member of the Heidelberg School.
Born in Dorchester, Dorset, England, where his parents were newspaper editors, Roberts immigrated with his family to Australia in 1869. Settling in Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne, 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.
(en.wikipedia.org)


Spring Beach Trees
From delake.com


At the close of the century Roberts had decided to leave Australia because of the bad economic conditions and lack of patronage—'there seemed so little in front of us'. However, when in 1901 he was invited to attend the opening of the Commonwealth Parliament in Melbourne, he was commissioned to paint the official picture. His 'Minute Book' reflects his excitement. Roberts was to paint 250 figures for which he was offered more than one thousand guineas and expenses. The work took two and a half years but it gave him financial security. In 1903 he embarked for England to complete the 'Big Picture' (1570 sq. feet, 518 cm x 305 cm). He had 'longed and longed' to return to England, but he did not receive the patronage he expected despite his contacts with Royalty while painting the picture, and, uncertain of the direction his art should follow, he entered a 'black period' for several years. Although Roberts had considered the commission to be the peak of his career, the need to represent accurately so many figures and the importance he placed on the task sapped his energy and weakened his eyesight.
(adbonline.anu.edu.au)


Sketch for The Big Picture
From naa.gov.au


This is a black-and-white photograph of a color oil sketch made by the celebrated Australian artist at the opening of the first federal parliament in Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building on 9 May 1901. It shows the grandeur and formality of the scene in impressionistic style. The faces of the subjects are generally not recognizable, although the figure at the front of the stage is clearly the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V).
(naa.gov.au)


Tom Roberts working on The Big Picture
Author unknown
Source parliament.vic.gov.au
From en.wikipedia.org


The Big Picture
Oil on canvas, 1903
Opening of the first parliament
The Commonwealth of Australia
From en.wikipedia.org


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.
On 1 January 1901, after years of debate, the various colonies in Australia joined in a federation. While the new Constitution of Australia called for a new capital to be constructed, away from the major cities, until that time Melbourne would act as the seat of government of the new nation. Elections were held for the first Parliament of Australia and on 9 May 1901, the new parliament was sworn in at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne.
The opening of the new parliament was seen as a historic and momentous occasion with King Edward VII's son, the Duke of Cornwall and York (later George V) coming to Australia to officially open the new parliament on behalf of the King. To appropriately capture the occasion, the "Australian Art Association", a consortium of private benefactors, sought to commission a painting of the event as a "gift to the nation". Their motives were not entirely altruistic; the consortium hoped to profit by selling prints. Roberts was not the consortium's first choice, with J.C. Waite initially preferred
Although not commissioned on the day of the opening, Roberts had received an approach from the consortium and so attended the ceremony to take photographs and sketches. Two weeks after the event, after the consortium was turned down by Waite, Roberts was formally commissioned to produce the painting. The contract initially was for 650 guineas but this was increased to 1000 guineas when the scope of the work was realized. Roberts was also paid one guinea for each subject's sketch plus expenses; in all he received over 2000 guineas for the work. The contract required Roberts to include at least 250 recognizable likenesses in the finished work, including the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, the Governor General, each State Governor, Members of the new Commonwealth Parliament and other distinguished guests.
“When the great day came your mother and I went to the hall of the Exhibition Building, and without getting seats, walked quietly at the very back, and climbing up some rails, I was able to see that immense gathering of people from Australia, and from so many parts of the world. It was very solemn and great. The heads on the floor looked like a landscape.” - Tom Roberts writing to his son Caleb.
Roberts started to work on the painting in a room provided at the Royal Exhibition Building. The painting was made in three flax panels to enable it to be folded for transportation. He travelled to Sydney and many other places to make sketches of the attendees as well as working from photographs. He asked his subjects for "measurements" to ensure accuracy—age, height, weight, hat size and even place of birth. In all, the picture included 269 separate portraits. Rumors spread that Roberts was paid by some of these dignitaries to ensure they were placed in a more prominent location
(en.wikipedia.org)
During World War I, understating his age (59), he enlisted in 1915 with several other Australian artists as an orderly, undertaking menial tasks, at the 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth; he became corporal, then sergeant, in charge of the dental department, and remembered the hospital with great affection. He returned to Australia in December 1919, stayed for a year and held exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney whose success encouraged him to return finally early in 1923.
(adbonline.anu.edu.au)


Tom Roberts
From artistfootsteps.com


During World War I, understating his age (59), he enlisted in 1915 with several other Australian artists as an orderly, undertaking menial tasks, at the 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth; he became corporal, then sergeant, in charge of the dental department, and remembered the hospital with great affection. He returned to Australia in December 1919, stayed for a year and held exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney whose success encouraged him to return finally early in 1923.
(adbonline.anu.edu.au)
Roberts was a slim 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm), brown-eyed, brown-bearded, prematurely balding; he retained his English accent. He was direct, definite and straightforward in manner, loved an argument and relating anecdotes, and in his younger days was often the life of a party. (Sir) Frederic Eggleston, a friend of the 1920s, recalled: 'He was a great talker, full of fun and whims and wisdom, but he was no egotist … He would not permit the silent listener. Every moment brought the call for active comradeship, participation in the passing of life and the enjoyment of beauty. He could not have lived without this active interchange of affection and friendship'.
(adbonline.anu.edu.au)
Roberts and his wife settled at Kallista in the Dandenongs in a small cottage they named Talisman. He was particularly fond of the countryside there and returned to painting small formal landscapes in a low-key tonal Impressionism which he had rediscovered in a small panel painted in 1914 at Lake Como. Lillie Roberts died in 1928 and on 27 August he married her childhood friend Jean Irving Boyes at Illawarra, Tasmania. His last work 'Ring a Ring a Roses' was a nostalgic reprise of a landscape painted at Cremorne, Sydney, in the early 1890s. He died at Talisman on 14 September 1931 and was cremated. His wife and son by his first marriage survived him.
(adbonline.anu.edu.au)


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