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Tom Roberts painted Shearing the Rams in 1890 near Corowa

Tom Roberts - Shearing the RamsTom Roberts: Shearing the Rams

In spring 1888, Tom Roberts arranged with the family of his sister-in-law, the Andersons, to visit this area. Mr. Alexander Anderson, a key figure in Corowa, was an owner of Brocklesby Station, some 64,000 acres (25,000 hectares) near Corowa.

During shearing, he made 70 to 80 sketches in and around the station woolshed 16km from Corowa (on a property now known as Killeneen). During autumn and winter, he returned to his studio and did portrait paintings to finance his trips.
In spring 1889, he set up his canvas and pad in the shed and as models, "the most characteristic and picturesque of the shearers and rouseabouts". They were local people, many of whose descendents are still in the district. He worked all through the shearing, then packed up hsi canas and returned to his studio to complete the work.

He completed it in May 1890 and sold it for 350 guineas ($735) to Edward Trenchard who had a pastoral company in Collins Street, Melbourne.

Art critics of the time said of the painting: "...the best illustration which has yet been given of one of the most characteristic scenes of Australian life" [The Argus 31st May 1890], and another declared that ..."Shearing the Rams is a work by which Mr. Roberts name will always be remembered" [Table Talk 30th May, 1890].

The fact that Roberts did not include machine shearing (first introduced at Dunlop Station on the Darling River in 1885) was criticised by some. However, he felt that hand shearing "gave more meaning to the painting".

Roberts was a prolific painter, with over 150 works prior to 1890 (equal proportions of portraits landscapes and still lifes). He most famous paintings include:

The Artist Camp 1886 (Box Hill)  
The Breakaway 1891 (Corowa)  
The Golden Fleece 1894 (Inverell)  
Bailed Up 1895 (Inverell)  
The Opening of the First Federal Parliament 1901-3 (Melbourne)  

At least three major paints were done at Brockesby House in South Corowa.
Shearing the Rams which measures 1.2 x 1.8m was brought by the National Gallery, Melbourne in 1932.

Tom Roberts (1856-1931)

Born in England, Tom came to Melbourne in 1869 with his widowed mother and two younger siblings, Alice and Richard. They lived in Collingwood and Tom worked with a number of photographers from the age of 13 years.

Art training began when he was 15 and by 18, he worked with renowned Swiss artist, Louis Buvelot. In 1881, he went to England and Europe for overseas study (financed by the sale of paintings to the National Gallery).

Soon after returning in 1885, his balance of work started to shift from photography to painting. He had been influenced by French impressionists who tried to capture the "everchanging efects of nature" in their works. With a growing nationalist spirit that preceded Federation, Roberts joined others at Heidelberg near Melbourne and they became known as the Heidelberg school. Leaders included C. Conder, F. McCubbin, A. Streeton and later W. Withers and their efforts let to the foundation of a national school for landscape painting.

By 1890, he had completed Shearing the Rams and in 1891 painted A Breakaway at Brocklesby Station (west of Corowa). He travelled extensively between Tasmania, Melbourne, Riverina, Sydney and Torres Strait in 1890s. As well as capturing Australian life, he painted many portraits including Henry Parkes (1893).

After a long courtship and at 40 years of age, he married Elizabeth Williams (Lillie) in 1896 and settled in Balmain where they had a son Caleb.

During 1901-1903, Tom painted Opening of the First Federal Parliament. With his family, he returned to England in 1903 and stayed there for the next 16 years during which time he did many paintings and even assisted at London General Hospital with the World War I effort.
He briefly returned to Australia in 1919 and then in 1923 decided to move back permanently. He and Lillie built a house at Kallista in the Dandenongs. He had a number of exhibitions in Sydney an Melbourne with varying success.

Lillie died of respiratory failure in 1927. He was re-married in 1928 to a long time friend, Jean Boyes. Three years later and at 75 years of age, he died in June 1931 of the effects of cancer.


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