Important Australian + International Fine Art
24 April 2013


(1856 - 1931)

oil on wood panel

32.5 x 27.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: Tom Roberts June/86
bears inscription verso: Tom Roberts / Born 1856 / Died 1931 / Painted June 1886 / E S Wigg & Son / Rundle St / ADELAIDE

$80,000 - 120,000
Sold for $72,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 29 - 24 April 2013, Melbourne

Norman G. Clark, Melbourne
Thence by descent
Norman K. Clark, Melbourne
Thence by descent
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

Self Portrait (Aged 30), 1886 by Tom Roberts is a work of considerable historical importance providing a unique insight into the personality of the artist who was to be acknowledged as 'the father of Australian landscape painting'.1 It records a significant time both in Roberts's art and his leadership of the then emerging national school of Australian painting. Having arrived back in Australia the year before, Roberts was filled with the theories and practices he had encountered abroad, enthusing other young artists with ideas of Impressionism. In the summer of 1886-87 he set up a painting camp at Box Hill with Frederick McCubbin and Louis Abrahams, remembered today in Roberts's The Artists' Camp, c1886 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne). Other gems from this time include Allegro Con Brio, Bourke Street West, c1885-86 (on loan to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), and A Summer Morning Tiff (Art Gallery of Ballarat, Victoria). McCubbin's contribution to that sparkling year included Lost (National Gallery of Victoria) and Gathering Mistletoe (private collection). The year 1886 also saw McCubbin appointed drawing master at the National Gallery of Victoria School of Design, and the establishment of the Australian Artists' Association. Led by Roberts, a group of artists broke away from the old Academy of Arts to establish the more professional Association. In September, committee member Roberts contributed numerous paintings to its inaugural exhibition - A Summer Morning Tiff (Art Gallery of Ballarat), and portraits of Miss Hutchinson and Miss Minnie Simpson(private collection, Canberra) being among them. The latter was selected for a line illustration in the catalogue. Still in 1886, Roberts honoured their 'teacher' Louis Buvelot with a pen and ink portrait and an etching (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney). In December, to complete the year, the teenaged Streeton joined up with Roberts and McCubbin after meeting while painting at Mentone.

The aesthetic appeal and iconographic significance of Roberts's rural subject pictures such as Shearing the Rams, 1888-90 (National Gallery of Victoria) is so great that they eclipse his portraits. We are inclined to overlook that he was one of the finest portrait painters of his day. Much the same can be said for Roberts's fellow artist McCubbin whose engaging portraits are overshadowed by his pictorial epics of pioneers. Significantly, in 1886 McCubbin also painted a youthful self-portrait, holding the paint brushes and palette of his calling (Art Gallery of New South Wales). While drawing attention to the status and role of the artist, both Roberts and McCubbin painted with an eye for history. Another portrait of these halcyon days is Roberts's Smike Streeton age 24, 1891(Art Gallery of New South Wales).

In Self Portrait (Aged 30), 1886 Roberts reveals much of the character of the person who contributed so greatly to Australian art in the 1880s. Broad of forehead, intelligent, strong, and personable, aged thirty and nearing the height of his powers, this is the face of a leader. The direct, slightly quizzical look, comes from viewing himself in a mirror, translated into friendly disposition. Portraits of Roberts are rare. In 1889 Charles Conder included his An Impressionist (Tom Roberts) (Art Gallery of New South Wales) in The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition in Melbourne. Years later, in 1921, the Trustees of Art Gallery of New South Wales solicited a self-portrait, which Roberts duly painted in 1924. As an historical document and work of art, Self Portrait (Aged 30), 1886 is one of the most important paintings by Roberts to come on the market in recent times.

1. See Croll, T., Tom Roberts: Father of Australian Landscape Painting, Robertson and Mullens, Melbourne, 1935