Important Australian + International Fine Art
9 May 2007

Tom Roberts

(1856 - 1931)

oil on wood panel (double-sided)

19.5 x 25.5 cm

signed and inscribed lower left: T.L.M/ Tom Roberts

$100,000 - 140,000
Sold for $108,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 1 - 9 May 2007, Melbourne

Private collection, Sydney
Rushton Fine Arts, Sydney, 7 July 1987, cat.83 as 'Portrait of Elaine'
Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne
Private collection, Brisbane


Selected Australian Impressionist Paintings, Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne, 18 April-12 May 1990, cat.3 (illus.) as 'Elaine' c1896

Catalogue text

Tom Roberts was a gifted portrait painter who created grand images of bushrangers and shearers that have entered the national pantheon. For The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth...1901-3, he was required to sketch and paint nearly three hundred portraits, working directly from the model. Numerous other portraits date from before and after this 'Big Picture', notable for their portrayal of character and life. During the 1890s he completed a series of male portraits on cedar or oak panels- of composers, musicians, actors, all carried out with a Whistlerian elegance and finesse. His portraits of women are invariably full of charm and beauty, whether a lady of fashion as in The Paris Hat 1892 (New England Regional Art Museum, Howard Hinton Collection), or a disarming child such as Lily Stirling c1890 (National Gallery of Victoria).

Our portrait is identified as Mrs Eileen Tooker on the basis of its similarity to the portrait 'Eileen' 1892 in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. (The Gallery purchased 'Eileen' in the year it was painted making it, together with Aboriginal Head- Charlie Turner c1892, the first works by Roberts to enter a public collection.) Both profile portraits of this striking Irish woman show the same strong facial features, prominent nose and chin, similar hairstyles and large hats. The beautifully fresh smaller work has all the immediacy of a study from life- pink flesh tones and red and white highlights against a darkly warm background. Roberts often enjoyed the profile, adopting it for a number of other portraits of the time, including the already mentioned The Paris Hat, At the Post Office 1892 and Portrait of a Lady 1892, whose features are not entirely unfamiliar. His male portraits for 1892 included Sir Henry Parkes (Art Gallery of South Australia) and Sir Charles Windeyer.

The reverse of the panel has an equally fresh, broadly handled landscape, possibly of New South Wales, smallness of scale in no way diminishing its bravura performance. In the summer into autumn of 1891 Roberts was at Corowa painting A Break Away (Art Gallery of South Australia). Our landscape has that same sun-drenched atmosphere, with the deep blue waters suggesting a river estuary or, perhaps a coastal location.