Menzies Art Brands



After many years in England, Tom Roberts and his wife Lillie returned to Melbourne in early 1923 to settle at South Sassafras (nowadays Kallista) in the Dandenong Ranges. Here they built a cottage, Talisman, in which to live and enjoy the quieter, richer country life. Roberts responded warmly to the landscape he loved so well, writing: am on, with fresh delight, to landscapes and here is very tempting surrounding.1 The results were many, the present work being a particularly fine example. Roberts grand nineteenth century subject pictures and lyrical landscapes of Box Hill and Sydney Harbour, however, have long been held in such high regard that these later landscapes tended to be left in the shade. While the former have a captivating blend of nationalism and youth, the later views are the creations of an older, more experienced artist. Exuberance of youth is replaced by contemplation, different moods and virtues. The art critic for The Age noted this in his review of Roberts 1924 exhibition at Melbournes Fine Art Societys Gallery: While his present work does not show the vigor and vitality of his earlier work, its poetry, truth and sincerity make a much greater appeal.2 Again, fellow-artist Jessie Traill (1881-1967), wrote perceptively: There in the quiet years that followed he painted, thought-out gentle landscapes they seemed removed from hurry; they had a joy and love in them, gained after years of seeking our own bush interpreted by one who loved it so.3 The return of these works to higher regard was seen at Christies in 2005 when Dandenongs Landscape c1925, from the collection of Dr Joseph Brown, sold for $107,550 (including buyers premium).4 Moreover, the recent Tom Roberts retrospective exhibition and catalogue produced by the National Gallery of Australia in 2015 gave them substantial scholarly endorsement.

Two of the most memorable of these later landscapes, The South Wind 1924 and Sherbrooke Forest 1924, are in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. The eye-catching motif of tall, slender gums in our painting is translated into an open screen in The South Wind, through which the glorious panorama beyond is viewed from Roberts property. In Sherbrooke Forest the tree trunks dominate like the visual counterpoint of an organ peal reverberating with might and grandeur. With a touch of narrative present in the toiling horses, Roberts wraps structure and balance in a stillness that is captivating.

In Untitled (Dandenongs Landscape) c1923 the angles of the folds of the land are balanced by the verticals of the gums, emphasised by the repetition of the occasional white trunks. To the left, a tall gum stands out in silent majesty, sharing its sharper definition with the home to the right. Roberts love of the gum tree is well known, reflected in such titles as Joy o Gums in his 1924 solo show, and A Queen of Gums 1926 from a private collection. But overall our painting strikes a quieter note, of settled closeness, the home, land part cleared, and road providing those civilising touches that so fondly populated the landscapes of Louis Buvelot (1814-1888).

Buvelot was greatly admired by Roberts, Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917) and their contemporaries. They acknowledged him for opening their eyes to the special character of the Australian landscape and poetry of the bush. If bravura is the hallmark of Roberts earlier Australian works, the quiet poetry of the landscape distinguishes his later ones. Here, the peaceful vision of Untitled (Dandenongs Landscape) is furthered by the softer focus and rising mist through which the eye can roam across the noble spread of land.

1. Roberts letter to Major Bertodano, 24 November 1924, Roberts biographical file, Art Gallery of New South Wales Library, quoted in Gray, A., Tom Roberts, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2015, p.300
2. Art Notes. Mr. Tom Roberts Paintings., Age, 17 September 1924, p.16
3. Traill, J., quoted in Gray, op. cit., p.25
4. Dandenongs Landscape, oil on board, 30 x 40.2 cm, Christies, Paintings From The Dr Joseph Brown Collection, Melbourne, 17 May 2005, lot 26 

David Thomas

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