Last weekend I made a flying visit to Canberra, the National Capital of Australia.
I visited a few friends and dropped by the National Gallery to see the Tom Roberts
exhibition. Most of these pictures have been with me since I was a child.
They are part of my consciousness, and helped me understand Australia, the country that I today
call home. I was born in Malaysia.
Tom Roberts was born in England & came to Australia at the age of 13. He lived half his life outside the country. Maybe he never quite knew where he belonged. ???
It depicts the long journey to Australia from Europe. Though I arrived by plane, the sea is still the most
common route most immigrants use.
Its a beautiful composition with a dreamy like quality in the paint. You can see the ship move... its heaving to the right. The funnel, the chimney, the foreground all tilt.
Roberts, probably had to return often to the "mother country" to further his career. But I think you can see from his paintings that his heart belonged to Australia.
It's called "Bailed Up" and depicts a highway robbery. The man on the horse to the left is slouching forward with his gun pointing to the ground. The bushranger (Captain Thunderbolt) looking into the coach may as well be asking the occupants if they are having a nice day. Captain Thunderbolt was known as the "Gentleman Bushranger".
I think Bailed up is more an examination of the Australian Bush. The heat, the glaring light, the vertical landscape are all beautifully portrayed. It's often described as Australia's greatest landscape painting.
Officially titled "The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia
by HRH The Duke of Cornwall and York (later HM King George V), May 9,
Poor Tom ... he had to paint 269 separate portraits. It must have felt like hard labour. Roberts himself reportedly dubbed the painting his “Frankenstein of 17 feet”.
I much prefer this smaller study:
Below we have "The Golden Fleece"
In titling the first painting, "The Golden fleece" was Roberts referencing classical antiquity - Jason & the Argonauts. Tom was heavily criticized at the time for his depection of manual labour. Critics of the time said, "well it’s a bit vulgar to paint something so realistic, a great artist should connect to the ideology of the Greeks.” (Smith). But I think the figures are noble & heroic.
In a letter to The Argus on July 1880, he wrote: “Being in the
bush and feeling the delight and fascination of the great pastoral life
and work I have tried to express it … the quick running of the wool
carriers, the screwing of the presses, the subdued hum of the hard, fast
working and the rhythmic click of the shears, the whole lit warm with
the reflection of Australian sunlight.”
Just love this painting. It's Lake Como, Italy. 1913.
Robert's emphasis of the triangles & geometry , the glassy water, misty light.
All, in all, a great exhibition.If you do get a chance to visit Canberra over the Easter weekend, dont miss it.