Artist Tom Roberts is perhaps best known in Australia for his iconic paintings which depict our rural life and pastoral history, such as The Golden Fleece painted in 1894 or the romantic and dangerous era of the bush-ranging years in Bailed Up. Never one to stay long at home, even after marrying relatively late in life, he travelled continuously eager to seek out new subjects and locations to paint. When Tom discovered the 25,000-hectare NSW property Brocklesby Station in the late 1880s a masterpiece was in the making. This is where he painted one of his most famous works, and one of my favourites, ‘Shearing the Rams’.

(Detail from Shearing the rams 1888-90, painted at Brocklesbury Station, Corowa, NSW & Melbourne)

I see this painting as a moving example of Tom Robert’s passion to give Australian art its own identity. It depicts strong masculine shearers, and captures the hard labour and toughness endured inside the shearing sheds in the early days, while celebrating the wool industry; Australia’s greatest export at that time. It’s believed that much of it was painted on location at the woolshed over a two-year period, a testament to the ‘plein air’ techniques that Tom Roberts developed while he was in Europe.
But Tom didn’t confine his talents to interesting and dramatic rural scenes, he was also a fine portrait painter. I often turn to Tom for inspiration and today I flicked through a Tom Roberts art book and found this wonderful painting of a Mrs Ince, entitled Grey Lady (1910-12). You can’t always rely on portraits to give you a credible example of clothing for a period but with Grey Lady I had found an image of a woman on which I could style a fashionable outfit for one of my characters in my current work-in-progress. Life to canvas to the written word. Mrs Ince is an in-demand subject.

(Grey Lady c1910-12 pianted London)

(Tom Roberts: Born England 1856-1931 Australia)