Portrait of a young girl

Born Dorchester, England 1856, arrived Australia 1869, died Kallista, Victoria 1931

Tom Roberts rose from humble beginnings to become a leading figure in Australian art. In 1873 he enrolled in the Collingwood and Carlton Artisans School of Design, where he received a landscape award from Eugene von Guérard and Louis Buvelot. He later studied at the National Gallery School, Melbourne (1875–80), attended anatomy classes at the University of Melbourne, and studied under Bertram Mackennal at the Royal Academy School, London (1881–84).

Roberts is best known for his heroic, nationalistic images of Australia, both rural scenes such as Shearing the rams (1890) and cityscapes. He also painted portraits throughout his career, being known for his sensitive portraits of women and girls shown in soft light.

In addition he championed the establishment of a National Portrait Gallery to the then Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, whom he was familiar with through portrait sittings. Among Roberts’ achievements were his formative role in what became known as the Heidelberg School of Australian impressionism and co-organising the legendary 9 x 5 Impression Exhibition (1889) with Arthur Streeton and Charles Condor.

Chair of the Society of Artists, Sydney (1895–97), Roberts was also a committee member of the Australian Artists Association and the Victorian Academy of Arts. In 1996 a major touring retrospective of his work was organised by the Art Gallery of South Australia, and his work has been included in many important survey exhibitions.

Roberts’ work is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, all state and many regional galleries.