18 March 2016

Knowing Tom better

Recently, Tom Roberts at the National Gallery. Before that, Celestial Empires at the National Library and Encounters at the National Museum. It's a busy time. Tom Roberts was busy but not so busy we couldn't go straight in. I didn't expect too much but was well impressed by the end. His works are ubiquitous in the Australian imagination. I'd seen many or the best works in Ballarat and Adelaide and Sydney and Melbourne, but seeing them together was informative. There's Australian light and dust, some impressive portraits, an uncommon interest in Aborigines of the time (despite the proud images of [white Anglo] "Australian natives" - this was the decade before Federation), working men and presentable women, gums and grass and beaches around Melbourne and Sydney with heavily dressed people (other than three skint male painters going for a swim). There was even a country road that Megan knew well, between stately, tall gums (Tom Roberts Road, no less). I was surprised to find it so satisfying; maybe I shouldn't have been. Seeing these works up close you can see the paint dabbled and the brush strokes and the animate effects of the impressionists. Then, his big painting, Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, which I'd otherwise seen in a relatively skimpy space in Parliament House. It's a great historical record with awkward teaming layers of notables. He was a handsome man, too, from a bust in the exhibition. I was amused by an Australian Pastoral, delighted by pastels with their glowing colours, admiring of a range of very effective portraits (they were dignified in those days, despite heat and flies) and surprised at how many were such common images in my consciousness. Much enjoyed.

The Tom Roberts exhibition was at the National Gallery of Australia.

  • Exhibition website
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