Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 April 2009

Tom Roberts

(1856 - 1931)

oil on canvas

25.7 x 46.2 cm

signed lower left: Tom Roberts

$250,000 - 350,000

Possibly Dr R. S. Goodsell, or Arthur Tilt, or Lady Oliver
Lawson's, Sydney, 21 – 23 November 1951, lot 761a, as 'Victorian Landscape' Grosvenor Gallery, Sydney
Purchased by the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1951
Deaccessioned by the Queensland Art Gallery, 19 April 1991
Private collection, Melbourne


Acquisitions 1951–53, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1953, cat. 21, p. 5, as 'The Stream, Heidelberg' Aerial Art Exhibition, toured seven north Queensland centres, Sep – October 1962, cat. 4
Australian Art 1862 – 1964, toured Mt Isa, Bowen, Surfers Paradise, Warwick, 1964–5 (Helen Topliss also records 19 November 1969, Gladstone. March 1970, Stanthorpe. October 1970, Pittwater)
Heidelberg to Heide: Creating an Australian Landscape 1850 – 1950, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2 June – 12 August 2001, p. 12 (illus.), & p. 63


Topliss, H., Tom Roberts 1856 – 1931: A Catalogue raissoné, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985, vol.I (cat. 56), 'A Quiet Stream (Heidelberg)', & vol.II (illus.)
Heidelberg to Heide: Creating an Australian Landscape 1850 – 1950, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2001, p. 12 (illus.), & p. 63

Catalogue text

The Yarra River at Heidelberg inspired some of Australia's best Impressionist paintings. Foremost is Arthur Streeton's Still glides the stream, and shall forever glide, 1890, in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. To this must be added his Spring, 1890, in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, complemented by Charles Conder's The Yarra, Heidelberg of the same year, in Canberra's National Gallery of Australia. Tom Roberts' A Quiet Stream (Heidelberg) belongs to this distinguished group in subject and quality.

Though more intimate in scale, and similar in mood and size to Conder's Landscape with River and Boat of 1890, it was painted directly from the motif with the assurance that comes from an artist confident his considerable of talents. Helen Topliss, in her catalogue raissoné of Roberts' work, gave a date of circa 1885-88 to the painting. Compared with such darker toned works of 1885 as A Quiet Day on Darebin Creek (National Gallery of Australia), A Quiet Stream (Heidelberg) appears later in style through its higher key and fluency of technique. Roberts captured the scene with that spontaneous brushwork that allies it to French Impressionism. Although cool in palette, there is a wonderful, all-pervading atmosphere, with touches of golden yellows and bright blue highlights in the river. They provide an enlivening contrast with the subtle greys, the gradations of green are redolent of the coming spring, the sky heavy with the prospect of more seasonal rain while the stream is full with the bounty already received. A gentle noonday light adds to the mood of optimism as nature, casting off her shades of winter, begins to deck herself out. This serene expectancy is taken up in the contentment of the cows, grazing on the luxuriant spring grasses, while the group beside the gently flowing stream provide a human element with promises of the out-door life and picnics to follow.

Roberts' paintings are notable for their mastery of tone, and his skills transformed the everyday into something special. Painting en plein air, Roberts and his colleagues sought the transient atmospheric effects that come with the different times of day and seasons. Streeton's Spring, 1890 (National Gallery of Victoria), also painted at Heidelberg, is in the words of a contemporary 'an effective study of spring or early summer, before the grass has lost its greeness'.1 His Still glides the stream captures the twilight hour, as Roberts delighted in a similar, later moment in Moonlight c.1889-90, in the collection of the Bendigo Art Gallery.

1. Table Talk, Melbourne, 7 March 1890, p. 6, quoted in Smith, G., Arthur Streeton 1867-1943, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, p. 58