An Australian identity, 1880s style.


Shearing the Rams, by Tom Roberts.

An Englishman by birth, Roberts moved to Australia as a boy of seventeen. He trained in England and became a master of peinture sur le motif or open air painting. This later led to him and other Australian artists forming the Heidelberg school of Australian Impressionism which produced many open air studies of the Australian bush  with an emphasis on peculiarities of nature in this country such as the colour of the eucalyptus bark and leaves and the harsh sunlight.

Roberts completed and exhibited the painting in 1890, but its journey began two years earlier at a shearing shed in the Riverina of New South Wales. Roberts had known the family who owned the farm and made at least seventy sketches before putting brush to canvas. The smiling boy in the centre was modelled on a girl and might be said to symbolize the newly emerging country. In 1888 Australia was celebrating a century of European presence and a move was on to develop a national identity even in art. The country was seen as young, virile and strong. Wool was a major reason behind the Australian success story and Roberts captured that perfectly.

This painting is iconic Australiana and has been used on postage stamps, in text books, as an influence on advertising layouts and parodied as often as it has been praised.

It hangs in Federation Square in Melbourne with other Australian art at the multi-gallery complex at the Ian Potter Centre.

This entry was posted in Art, History, Our history and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to An Australian identity, 1880s style.

  1. spunkybong says:

    Its amazing how little I seem to know about not only Australia but New Zealand too. Loved this little glimpse. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s