Tom ROBERTS, Harbourscape Enlarge 1 /1


Dorchester, England 1856 – Kallista, Victoria, Australia 1931

  • Australia from 1869
  • England, Europe 1881- 85, 1903-23

Harbourscape [Seascape] c.1890s Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on wood panel

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Tertiary Insc: inscribed and dated on the verso by Roberts's son, Caleb 'By Tom Roberts/ C.J.R 1953' It has also been inscribed in a separate hand, by Caleb's wife, Norah, 'With many thanks/ to Mr Joe Brown/ Norah Roberts'.
Dimensions: 6.0 h x 11.1 w cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, 2008
Accession No: NGA 2008.6

This is the smallest known painting by Tom Roberts (1856�1931). He painted it directly onto the panel (without any ground), as he did with his other plein air paintings of the 1880s and 1890s. The location of the work is uncertain, but it is likely to be around Sydney Harbour, possibly from the north shore area, looking towards the city. Roberts worked in Sydney for much of the 1890s, living on the shore of Sydney Harbour at Curlew Camp, Little Sirius Cove, from 1891 until his marriage in April 1896, moving to Balmain in 1897. The thick impasto of the paint corresponds with Roberts’s work of this period. The buildings are summarily treated in pink, white and brown. This palette and the open composition, with the narrow stretch of buildings across the centre, support a dating of late 1890s.

The lack of specificity of subject in this small panel may be because Roberts wanted to emphasise a mood of nature, such as the conditions at a certain time of day, as much as the delights of a specific place. In this work, as in many of his others, he was interested in expressing nature’s beauty. Nonetheless, he included details of human settlement: clusters of buildings near the shore and possibly the towers of factories in the background.

The painting has been inscribed and dated by Roberts’s son, Caleb, on a paper support attached to the back of the oil panel: ‘By Tom Roberts/ C.J.R 1953’. The inscription confirms its authenticity and provenance.

Roberts was Australia’s foremost artist of the late nineteenth century, promoting outdoor landscape painting and depicting important rural subjects. Between 1889 and 1898 he spent much of his time visiting outback stations in New South Wales, painting rural works of a national character such as Shearing the rams 1890 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne). He also established a reputation for portraits, including those of public figures such as Sir Henry Parkes, in 1892, and a series of 23 informal panel portraits of Australian types. He died from cancer on 14 September 1931 at Kallista, Victoria, aged 65.

Anne Gray
Head of Australian Art
in artonview issue 54, winter 2008

in artonview, issue 54, winter 2008