Tom Roberts and his critic

Tom Roberts, Harper’s Weekly, c. 1889, Oil on cedar cigar box lid, 23.8x14.2 cm. 

Tom Roberts is one of my favorite Australian artists. To me he is the father of Australian modernism. Maybe I just go for the quality of his mark making and his pallette; those monochrome portraits that are so exquisitely painted. So it is hard to imagine the  Impressionists (which includes Roberts) direct painting technique described at the time by the art critic James Smith, for the Argus, as ‘slap-dash brushwork’ equal to ‘primeval chaos’.[1]  Equally hard to fathom is that Roberts could not find a ready buyer for his now iconic Shearing the Rams, 1890, or that the National Gallery of Victoria did not acquire Roberts' work until 1920, 30 years after the famous 9 x 5 Impressionist exhibition. 

   1.  James Smith, ‘An Impressionist Exhibition’, Argus, August 17, 1889, 10.