100 Highlights from the Cbus Collection of Australian Art
27 July 2022


(1856 - 1931)

oil on canvas

50.5 x 38.0 cm

signed and dated lower left: Tom Roberts. / 9.

$100,000 – $150,000
Sold for $171,818 (inc. BP) in Auction 70 - 27 July 2022, Melbourne

Private collection
Christie’s, London, 10 June 1986, lot 214A (as ‘Portrait of a Girl’)
John Schaeffer, Sydney
Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 10 August 1998, lot 79
Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, acquired from the above 
The Cbus Collection of Australian Art, Melbourne, acquired from the above on 29 August 1998


Figurative Works from the Cbus Collection, Latrobe Regional Gallery, Victoria 4 August – 2 December 2012
Colour and Movement, Benalla Art Gallery, Victoria, 19 February – 9 June 2016
on long term loan to Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria 


Nainby, B., Stanhope, Z., and Furlonger, K., The Cbus Collection of Australian Art, in association with Latrobe Regional Gallery, Melbourne, 2009, pp. 18, 34 (illus.), 231
Cotter, J., Tom Roberts & The Art of Portraiture, Thames and Hudson, Melbourne, 2015, fig. 6.35, pp. 313, 315 (illus.)

Catalogue text

Tom Roberts was a skilled painter of people, able to capture the mood and character of his subjects, in addition to accurately describing their physical likeness. Portraiture makes up more than a third of his painted oeuvre, and while his motivation was sometimes practical – as he once explained to a friend, ‘Portraits pay, …my boy’1 – he was also attuned to its potential historical significance. A leading portrait painter of the late nineteenth century, Roberts’ sitters included prominent public and political figures, the most well-known being Sir Henry Parkes, whose 1892 portrait was hung at the Royal Academy, London the following year, and is now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. Roberts also painted friends and family – note, for example, his various portraits of his wife, Lillie, or Arthur Streeton – his familiarity with these subjects imbuing their portraits with palpable personality and a strong sense of intimacy.

Some of Roberts’ most striking portraits depict female subjects and, as Helen Topliss has noted, portraits such as Madame Pfund, c.1887 (National Gallery of Victoria) and Eileen, 1892 (Art Gallery of New South Wales), reveal his love of female personalities and companionship, as well as his aesthetic response to the decorative elements of women’s dress.2 This translated to female children too, with memorable portraits including Blue Eyes and Brown, 1887 and Lily Sterling, c.1888 (both National Gallery of Victoria), the latter a charming depiction of a friend’s young daughter. Roberts had worked in a photographic studio as a young man and the experience he gained there posing sitters and putting them at ease no doubt helped in this context.3

In this 1909 portrait, the young subject looks pensively beyond the painting edge, the silhouette of her profile carefully delineated against a pale background and dominated by the mass of wavy auburn hair. Her youthful complexion is painted with great delicacy and a remarkable sense of realism, pale skin illuminated by soft touches of pink on her cheek and lips, and warm brown eyes. Roberts delights in depicting texture – skin, hair, the fabric of her dress – and the overall feeling of softness in this work recalls another portrait of young sitters, Elizabeth and Carmen Pinschof, 1900 (National Gallery of Victoria), which was drawn in pastel. A beautiful painting, this work typifies what A. G. Stevens described as Roberts’ very particular ‘instinct of accuracy which makes good likenesses, and an instinct of art that makes charming likenesses.’4 

1. Roberts quoted in Taylor, G., Those Were the Days, Sydney, 1918, p. 100, cited in Topliss, H., Tom Roberts 1856-1931, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985, p. 20
2. Topliss, H., ‘Portraiture and Nationalism’ in Radford, R., Tom Roberts, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 1996, p. 154
3. Lane, T., Entry on Lily Stirling, c.1888 in Tom Roberts, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2015, p. 176 
4. Stevens, A. G. cited in Gray, A., ‘Harmonic Arrangements: Tom Roberts’ Painting’, ibid., p. 43