Keeping it all in the family

Sometimes you just have to call on family members to help you out. In this case, prominent Australian artist Tom Roberts called upon family members to sit for some of his greatest works. Incidentally, Tom the artist was also a gifted sculptor.

Born Thomas William Roberts  on 9th March 1856 in Dorchester, England, Tom and his family migrated to Australia in 1869. They settled in an inner Melbourne city – Collingwood. During his early years, Tom worked as a photographer’s assistant through the 1870s while studying art at night school under famous artist Louis Buvelot and became friends with fellow artists, including Frederick McCubbin who became key members of the Heidelberg School of art in Victoria. Tom returned to the UK for three years from 1881-1884 to further his art studies at the Royal Academy School before returning to Australia. On his return in 1885 and through to the 1890s, Tom worked in his studio at the Grosvenor Chambers and at a number of artists’ camps around Australia.

In 1896 he married 35-year-old Elizabeth (Lillie) Williamson and their only child Caleb was born two years later in 1898. The family lived in the hilly area of Kallista outside of Melbourne until Tom’s unfortunate death to cancer on 14th September, 1931.

  • Some of Tom’s greatest works are on show around galleries in Victoria. “Reconciliation”, (ca 1886) the oil on canvas painting [featured above] is part of the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum in Castlemaine, Central Victoria.  The female model for this is believed to be Tom’s sister Harriet.
  • His most famous work “The Shearers” is on display in the Ian Potter Centre of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne along with this bust of “Caleb”, which sits on display in the main foyer.
  • Caleb, is Tom and Lillie’s son. Born Caleb Grafton Roberts (1898-1965), he grew up to become a civil engineer, public servant and army officer. The bust of Caleb (1907) is cast in bronze and provided to the Gallery by Dr. Joseph Bowen OBE, 1983.

Where would we be without our family!

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