Tom Roberts (Biographical details)

Tom Roberts (painter/draughtsman; Australian; Male; 1856 - 1931)

Also known as

Roberts, Tom


Painter and a pioneer of Australian impressionism; donor to the BM of 18 ethnographic objects and 4 watercolours from the Torres Strait Islands; born Dorchester, UK 9 May 1856; emigrated to Australia with his widowed mother and siblings and settled in Melbourne in 1869; studied in the evenings at the School of the National Gallery of Victoria 1875-80; saved up for further study in England at the Royal Academy of Arts 1881-84; in 1883 made a walking tour through Spain with the Australian painter John Peter Russell and Dr William Maloney where he encountered two Spanish artists, Ramon Casas and Lorreano Barrau, who informed them about French impressionism and plein air painting; returned to Melbourne in 1885 and proselytised the new European styles among artist friends, Louis McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder, establishing artists' camps at Box Hill outside Melbourne and Eaglemont, which came to be called the Heidelberg school; organized the famous landmark '9 x5 Impression Exhibition' in Melbourne in 1889 with many of the 9 x 5 inches works painted on cigar box lids; moved to Sydney in 1891 and established artists' camp at Sirius Cove where Streeton joined him; sought to develop a national art by painting subject pictures of the Australian pastoral experience in the 1890s; in 1892 made a trip to North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands where he painted portraits of the Aborigines and the Torres Strait Islanders (he subsequently donated 18 ethnographic objects and 4 drawings to the BM in 1922); became well-known for his portaits of leading figures in Australian public life; involved in forming the Australian Artists' Association (1886), the Victorian Artists' Association (1888) and founding chairman of the NSW Society of Artists (1895-7); after receiving the commission to paint the official opening of Commonwealth Parliament in Melbourne in 1901, he left Australia for England in 1903, where he lived for the next sixteen years in London in straitened circumstances; enlisted as an orderly at the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth; returned to Australia in 1919 for a year before returning to Australia for good early in 1923; settled in Kallista in Dandenongs outside Melbourne; died 14 September 1931.


Virginia Spate,'Tom Roberts', Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1972, rev.ed.1978
Helen Topliss, 'Tom Roberts, 1856-1931: a catalogue raisonné', Melbourne: Oxford Univ.Press, 1985
Helen Topliss in Australian Dictionary of Biography
Tom Roberts, 'Going North'. The Argus, Melbourne, 12/11/1892; 19/11/1892; 3/12/1892, 10/12/1892.