Tom ROBERTS, The south wind Enlarge 1 /1


Dorchester, England 1856 – Kallista, Victoria, Australia 1931

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

The south wind 1924 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas on plywood Support: canvas on plywood

Dimensions: 35.6 h x 46.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Ruth Robertson Bequest Fund in memory of Edwin Clive and Leila Jeanne Robertson 2012
Accession No: NGA 2012.1739

The south wind is an evocative late painting by Tom Roberts, a lyrical work painted in a delicate low-key palette, conveying the artist's immediate response to his environment. In depicting three dead, white-trunked trees in the centre of the painting, Roberts directs our attention to the way trees were being destroyed in rural Victoria at that time.

Bushfires in the summers of 1919 and 1920 had burned large tracts of rural Victoria and in 1920 threatened the town of Sassafras (later re-named Kallista) in the Dandenong Ranges, forty-five kilometres to the east of Melbourne. When Roberts visited Melbourne in 1919, he wrote: 'It all came back to me when I sat there with the blue sweep of the [Dandenong] Ranges before me, and the sunshine warm and golden and the dear remembered beauty'. He was delighted to be back home, writing to his wife, who was still in England, '…it had the sensation that as a child you thought it would be going to heaven'.

Roberts then returned to live in Australia in 1923, having been in Britain for many years. He purchased a property in Sassafras and built a house there, which he named 'Talisman'. This painting from 1924 is a view from the property. Jessie Traill, referring to Roberts's Kallista landscapes, remarked: 'never looked hills so blue and dreaming distant; never trees on the nearer slope so finely traced; never clouds massed so bold and luminous…'

Tom Roberts was Australia's leading artist of the late nineteenth century, promoting outdoor landscape painting and depicting important rural subjects. He played a major role in the development of the Australian school of outdoor landscape painting. The acquisition of this late Australian landscape by Roberts, a valuable addition to the collection, was made possible through the generous bequest fund of Ruth Robertson.

Anne Gray Head of Australian Art

in artonview, issue 74, Winter 2013