Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 August 2008

Tom Roberts

(1856 - 1931)

oil on wood panel

41.0 x 24.0 cm

signed lower left: Tom Roberts

$80,000 - 120,000
Sold for $84,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 5 - 27 August 2008, Melbourne

Collection of Mr Leonard and Mrs Winifred Dodds, Sydney, until 1927
Private collection, 1927 – 1963
Artarmon Gallery, Sydney
A. Hamlin collection, 1963
Thence by descent
Sotheby's, Sydney, 23 May 1999, lot 635
Martin Browne Fine Art, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney


Topliss, H., Tom Roberts 1856–1931: A Catalogue raissoné, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985, vol. I, cat. 202a, & vol. II, pl. 92 (illus.) as erroneously 'Study for Mrs Leonora Dodds'

Catalogue text

Arthur Streeton's admiration for Tom Roberts' portrait of Mrs Leonard Dodds1 was such that he kept a photograph of it on the mantel in his London studio. It stood beside such treasures as the Mention Honorable awarded him at the 1892 Paris Salon.2 Writing to Roberts in November 1898, he described the portrait as 'a rare one, and she'll never have a better.'3 While the portrait admired by Streeton has been long held in Canberra in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, admirers of Roberts' fine portraits of beautiful and intelligent women have a rare opportunity to secure this slightly smaller work. Although described as a 'study' by Helen Topliss in her catalogue raissone, it is in every sense a complete painting of great charm. It also offers something special, a degree of intimacy not found in the more formally presented larger version. The greater poise and higher finish of the latter is offset by the engaging colour, informality and vivacity of paintwork of the former. Such lively strokes of the brush create a feeling of immediacy in their captured moment of intimacy. Her head is held slightly forward, as if listening intently to an unseen speaker, absorbing what is said to engage in ready reply. It is a delightfully lively work that speaks well of the admired sitter.

The sitter, Mrs Leonard (Winifred Mary) Dodds (1866 - 1946) and her husband were important patrons of Roberts, Streeton and their contemporaries, and one of their early purchases was Streeton's Redfern Station, 1893, now in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Patronage extended to friendship, as the Dodds' home was close to the artists' Curlew Camp at Sirius Cove, and Streeton continued corresponding with Winifred Dodds after he moved to London.

Roberts' portraits of the late 1880s into the 1890s provide a gallery of the great, of political, social and artistic leaders of the time, a testament to his ability as one of Australia's leading portrait painters. They range from Madame Pfund, c.1887, (National Gallery of Victoria), through Arthur Streeton, c.1890, (Art Gallery of New South Wales), to Sir Henry Parkes, KCMG, GCMG of 1892 (Art Gallery of South Australia), and Professor G. W. L. Marshall-Hall, 1899. It is, however, in his portraits of women and children that Roberts excels, distinguished by a painterly lyricism and sensitivity that characterises such works as Eileen, 1892 and Florence Greaves , c.1898, (both in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales). While his status as an official portraitist is unquestioned, it is, as Topliss so perceptively wrote, 'the informal portraits of friends and intimates which reflect the artist's real talents.'4

1. This work is commonly known by the erroneous title 'Mrs Leonora Dodds'; see for example, Topliss, op.cit., vol. I, cat. 202
2. Croll, R.H., Smike to Bulldog: Letters from Sir Arthur Streeton to Tom Roberts, Ure Smith Pty Limited, Sydney, 1946, p. 67
3. ibid, p. 68
4. Topliss, op. cit., vol. I, p. 21