Tom ROBERTS, Mrs John St Vincent Welch Enlarge 1 /2
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Dorchester, England 1856 – Kallista, Victoria, Australia 1931

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

Mrs John St Vincent Welch 1898 Description: Sydney organist Mrs John St Vincent Welch (Emily Thackeray)
Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, drawing in pastel Support: buff paper

Primary Insc: Signed and dated lower right in pastel, 'Tom Roberts / 1898'. Titled centre left in pastel, 'Mrs J St V. Welch' [t in superscript].
Dimensions: image 82.0 h x 32.8 w cm sheet 87.6 h x 52.0 w cm framed (overall) 1000 h x 647 w x 30 d mm
Cat Raisonné: Topliss (1985), 295
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1976
Accession No: NGA 76.259
  • Collection of Stuart St Vincent Welch.
  • At Lawsons auction 1975, lot 85.
  • Purchased by the Australian National Gallery, from Christie's Fine Art Auctioneers, Melbourne, May 1976.
  • From the auction, 'Australian historical and contemporary painting, drawings and prints, also European painting and tapestry, Melbourne: Christie's, 28 April 1976, lot 438.

Portraiture earned Tom Roberts his living, 40 per cent of his oeuvre being in this genre which he held in low regard. Yet when he was truly engaged with his subject – especially if a beautiful lady – his portraits resulted in some of his most striking achievements.

Mrs St Vincent Welch is in pastel, a medium Roberts favoured for women because of its tonal warmth. A preparatory pencil sketch has her facing the opposite way, her face unveiled and no space between her arm and torso or between her umbrella and hem. The changes indicate the thought Roberts gave even to informal depictions.

Mrs St Vincent Welch was in accord with a run of small-scale, yet generally full-length, portraits which Roberts completed during the second half of the 1890s. This survey of famous or familial figures celebrated the native-born as much as did his landscapes and subject paintings.

Humphrey McQueen, 2002

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002