Slide Show

1. TOM ROBERTS

1. TOM ROBERTS Dandenongs Landscape image

1. TOM ROBERTS

21Oct 2020

Tom Roberts’ paintings of the 1920s reveal his renewed delight in the Australian landscape, having spent the last two decades abroad in England and continental Europe.  In March 1923, the artist and his wife Lillie purchased land at South Sassafras (now Kallista) in the Dandenong Ranges, where they built a simple cottage and flower garden.  Perched on a ridge, the cottage offered expansive views over rolling tree-covered hills to the coastal plains of Port Phillip Bay.Roberts savoured the quietude and natural beauty of this new setting, reporting to a friend, ‘We go on quietly – I’m doing no portraits, but am on, with fresh delight, to landscapes – and here is a very tempting surrounding.’2 This was to be the artist’s retreat from a war-ravaged world: a rural idyll from which he would contemplate his final years.  
 
Dandenongs Landscape c1925 shows a view of undulating wooded pastures beneath a luminous blue sky.   Painted in spring or late autumn, the grass bears a verdant tinge, contrasted with the dark olive green of eucalypts nestled within the landscape.  Roberts has adroitly captured the inherent messiness of these trees, his drily applied impasto lending their foliage a certain depth and softness.   In the far distance, bluish ridgelines gently recede amid a shimmering layer of cloud.  There is a brightness and an airiness to this landscape which reflects Roberts’ invigoration at having returned ‘home’.  As the artist had written during a brief visit to Melbourne some years earlier, ‘It all came back to me when I sat there with the blue sweep of the Ranges before me, and the sunshine warm and golden’.3

Though relatively neglected during his lifetime, the later works of Tom Roberts proved an abundant source of inspiration to younger generations of Australian landscape painters.  The luminous, silvery tones and delicate brushwork of Roberts’ later landscapes may be seen to prefigure the works of Lloyd Rees (1895-1988) and Elioth Gruner (1882-1939) in the late 1920s and 1930s.   At the more radically modern end of the scale, Fred Williams (1927-1982) and Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) also acknowledged the influence of Roberts’ later works, with Boyd declaring, ‘All Australian paintings are in some way a homage to Tom Roberts.’4    
     
In Dandenongs Landscape, we see a mature artist taking pleasure in his work for its own sake.  As Jessie Traill (1881-1967) observed, Roberts’ landscapes of the 1920s ‘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.’5  

Footnotes:
1. Spate, V., Tom Roberts, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1972, p.127
2. Tom Roberts, quoted in Gray, A., Tom Roberts, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2015, p.54
3. Ibid., p.304
4. Arthur Boyd, quoted in Radford, R., ‘The Father of Australian Landscape Painting?’ in Radford, R., Tom Roberts, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 1996, p.18
5. Jessie Traill, quoted in Gray, A., p.25

Catherine Baxendale, B Phil (Hons), MA (Art Curatorship)