Thomas William Roberts was born in the English city of Dorchester. The birth certificate states that he was born on March 8, 1856, but a different date is stamped on the tombstone March 9, 1856. In 1869, after the death of his father, the family immigrated to live with relatives in Australia. They lived very poorly: in the evenings Tom and his mother sewed bags for sale.
In the 1870s, the young man worked as a photographer’s assistant, and it was at this time that he became interested in painting. I had to learn the basics of skill at night. His mentor was the Swiss Abram-Louis Buvelot, who had long settled on the Green Continent. In 1874, Thomas Roberts began attending drawing lessons at the National Gallery School, although he studied there to be a photographer, and in 1878 began attending an anatomical class. He actively interacted with artists and became especially close friends with Frederick McCubbin (Frederick McCubbin).
Biography of Thomas William Roberts
Soon Tom’s mother remarried. The relationship with his stepfather did not work out, and the aspiring painter decided to continue his education in the UK. The Victorian Academy of Arts awarded him a scholarship. In London, Roberts studied from 1881 to 1884, while working as an illustrator. In 1883, he traveled to Spain and France, met Laureano Barrau, Ramon Casas i Carbó, Jules Bastien-Lepage, James Abbot McNeill Whistler and seriously took a great interest in impressionism.
Members of this movement sought to see the world around them through the eyes of Australian Aborigines. Indeed, often the painters who came to the country from Europe, the landscapes turned out to be unrealistic: in their performance, the Victoria forests were very reminiscent of the French ones, and the majestic eucalyptus trees almost did not differ from the oaks. Companions set up camp in a picturesque bay, in a forest clearing, or in a small settlement and created in a naturalistic manner, trying to create “definitely Australian” paintings.
In August 1889, the artists organized an exhibition “9 by 5” in Melbourne, so named because of the size of the works on display 9 x 5 inches (23 x 13 cm). They were made on wooden cigar box lids from the Louis Abrahams tobacco shop. Of the 183 works, 62 were by Thomas William Roberts. The richly decorated frames, which attracted the attention of the public, were hand-made by him. The exhibition made a splash and became a landmark event in the history of Australian art.
Since the 1900s, the artist did little to paint.
In 1903, he and his wife and young son moved to England, where he earned his living by painting portraits and making frames for paintings and photographs, and missed the sunny south. During the First World War, Thomas Roberts worked in a hospital. He arrived in Australia at the end of 1919 for exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne. He was greeted with enthusiasm, and this prompted the master to finally move to his second homeland in 1923.
In 1928, the artist’s wife, Elizabeth, died, and soon he was married to a friend of his childhood. The union did not last long: on September 14, 1931, the painter died at the age of 75. In 1985, the Australian miniseries One Summer Again was released about the life of Thomas Roberts and the formation of the Heidelberg School.
The most famous paintings by Thomas William Roberts
The master’s works are inseparable from the land on which he lived. He painted many unique landscapes bathed in warm light and created expressive portraits of English settlers and Aboriginal people. Some of the best paintings by Thomas William Roberts:
- A Winter Morning After Rain, Gardeners Creek (1885) the author managed to avoid dissolving objects in color effects. A limited palette of shades makes the picture akin to the works of tonalists.
- Sheep Shearing (1888-1890) critics agreed that this work cannot be attributed to high art. But the plot of the picture turned out to be very close to ordinary people, because sheep breeding played an important role in the Australian economy.
- Sir Henry Parks (1892) is a portrait of the ancestor of the Australian state. The artist managed to masterfully portray the firm, clear look of this extraordinary person, to show the viewer his inner world.
- The Big Picture (1903) the artist depicted the opening of the first Australian parliament. The painting, consisting of three linen panels, includes 269 individual portraits. It was rumored that some dignitaries paid the author to display their figures in a prominent place.
Roberts was a natural leader and always demanded respect, not patronage. He played a leading role in the formation of the Heidelberg school of painting, managed to rally his comrades, to captivate them with his ideas. They said about Thomas William Roberts: “He cannot live without the exchange of love and friendship.” The work of the master is an integral part of the cultural heritage of Australia.