Tom Roberts and the Heidelberg School

 

Tom Roberts and the Heidelberg School

Australian artists of the 1880s where the first to work as a distinctive social group, where artists in previous years worked alone and identified themselves to live in a manner other than the general public. Tom Roberts and his associate painters worked together and created what was to later be called the Heidelberg School (Smith, 2001). They claimed to define their work as free in subject matter and technique, though they were not radicals, and as Clark (1985) describes, they deliberately cultivated a fashionably bohemian image, and their work was a manifesto of European ‘Impressionism’, which evolved into neo-romantic nationalism. Members of what became the Heidelberg School were not only dissatisfied with traditional painting that was being taught at the National Gallery of Victoria, they knew, they would not be recognized as anything other than naive if they hadn’t traveled and studied abroad. So artists had to become expatriates in order to become patriots, but those that were recognized in Europe; such as Charles Conder and Rupert Bunny may have been accepted because their work reflected a more bohemian neo-rococo frivolity which was fashionable in the Salons and Art clubs at the time, but not yet acceptable in Australian galleries because of Arcadian and moral value. Tom Roberts was one not accepted into academic circles and so chose to make it his goal to return to Australia and create what became the Heidelberg School, where under the guise of a bohemian lifestyle and fashionable décor he helped nurture a society into an imperialistic patriotism. Tom Roberts wrote on the situation: ‘England does not really want anybody; she has everybody and everything. The supply is in excess of the demand, she has the world to draw upon, and everyone comes here sooner or later. The only thing is to make her want you, and that is difficult, for she only really wants the exceptional in any line’ (Smith, 2001. pp 153-2). Tom Roberts was a natural born leader that took it upon himself to create a following in Australia and in London, that was to promote a certain nationalism that drew off popular culture, and it was no coincidence that it coincided with the activity of the Liberal premier Sir Henry Parkes (1815-1896).

When Parkes visited his birthplace in 1882, at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, England he spoke to an assembly of village children in authoritative tones: ‘you will not all rise to a position of power, honor, influence and responsibility such as that I now fill. But by resolving to discharge the duties of life, and in being of use and service in your day and generation, you will do far better than I have done’ (Martin, 1974), so in understanding Parkes philosophy one might understand Tom Roberts motive in the alliance and promotion of Parkes philosophy, and for Tom Roberts and other Australian artists there was the realization that ‘the very existence of art had always depended upon the existence of a privileged class’ (Smith, 2001.pp131). So Roberts became the center for the Australian arts community in London, in 1903 were both English and Australian artists frequented his house, and an annual dinner were gum leaves were set alight in ceremony became tradition that reflect noble patriotism as Parkes describes. This seems to be the point where Roberts see’s reason in patriotism. He was also a member of the Arts Club, which was a gentleman’s club for art, literature and science, where artists were required to become members in order to be accepted by the Royal Academy (Rogers, 1920), so he must have been a member in order to have been accepted into the Royal Academy, but the Arts club was steeped in tradition which may have nurtured Roberts patriotism, though it seems contradictory to his so called bohemian life style.

Figure 1. On the banks of the river near Heidelberg. Tom Roberts. 5 x9 Oil on board. http://img.aasd.com.au/89158940.jpg

tom roberts plein air

 

 

Figure 2. ‘curious little games’ Whistler 1884. 5 by 8 panel sketches. https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS291h9uqrVbEWZv-4qJB36iRLUiedz1oWVnSl0eZznmEu-ZC1lCQ

whistler plein air

 

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) founder of the Chelsea Club in revolt against the Art Club was known to be the first English Impressionist breaking away from traditional methods. He painted and exhibited small 5 by 8 panel sketches called ‘curious little games’ with his paintings entitled; ‘Notes’, ‘Harmonies’ and ‘Nocturnes’, in London in May 1884 (Clark,1985). One can be sure that Roberts was exposed to Whistlers exhibition, because he also became a member of the Chelsea Cub (Smith, 2001) and in his paintings of the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition of 1889, one can see a direct translation in style and titles of his paintings such as; harmonies in grey and yellow, arrangements in orange, blue and white, and symphonies in rose, black and grey as Miss Castilla of The Daily Telegraph observed (Clark, 1985 pp.113-7). See similarities in figures 1 and 2. Whistler’s stage management was also drawn upon for the 9 by 5 Exhibition, in fashionable orientalist décor arrangements, which had originally been staged in the same manner in 1874, ten years before Whistler, by the original French Impressionists challenging official academia and the Salons, but back in Melbourne critics and artists had not yet gained knowledge of the impressionist movement, but the exhibition sold out never the less, because of the clever marketing strategy using Aesthetic fashionable décor directed at the upper middle classes (Clark, 1985), it also worked to sway political opinion toward the acceptance of free-trade and non-secular tradition (Martin, 1974), and it is reasonable to suggest that by drawing on fashionable imagery and popular culture one might draw favour in political opinion.

Smith (1988) tells us that in most cases older conventions in art were absorbed in newer conventions and were a mix of topographic, picturesque, Arcadian, plein-air and impressionistic conventions and styles. Earlier painters such as Eugene von Guerard and Louis Buvelot were used to promote the penetration of the new country with pastoral images depicting past hunter gatherers, homesteads and sweeping pastoral views painted in grand traditional style (Sayers, 2001). Tom Roberts and artists from the Heidelberg School broke away from traditional methods and used mixed conventions, specifically plein-air painting to creating an emotional connection to the country with tonal value in landscape, and melancholy figurative romanticism.

Though Smith (2001) suggests that none of the Heidelberg School leaders were committed to political activity, he does however say that during the eighties and nineties Roberts, Ashton and Streeton were sympathetic with the Australian Labor movement, because of an association with J. F Archibald’s Bulletin, which came to be known as the Bushman’s Bible, described as ‘racist, isolationist, protectionist and masculine’. On its masthead, from the first issue until the early 1960s, was the clarion cry ‘Australia for the White Man’ (Wotherspoon, 2010). The Bulletin apparently had humanitarian sympathies rather than an economic one (Smith, 2001), but during the 1880s and 1890s artists had little regard for neither indigenous people nor women, no matter what political persuasion. What they did do was sought ways to connect the migrant people with the landscape. They were not interested in Aboriginal people apart from; for example a small portrait that Roberts painted of Corowa man Charlie Turner, and it was stated in a news article that the painting will grow in value as the original possessors of the land disappear (Sayers, 2001), and women during the Heidelberg era were only represented as subject matter, or as artists, if their work resembled men’s and placed women into idealistic domestic order (Clark, 1992). Roberts was not concerned with humanitarian efforts, but was more inclined to be economically influenced. For on his return to Australia in 1885, it was a time of economic down turn, but Roberts seemed to have a clear vision as to his goals on returning to Australia, when most artists were leaving for Europe in search for better work prospects.

Figure 3. Shearing the rams. 1890. Tom Roberts. Oil on canvas on composition board
122.4 x 183.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1932 http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/australianimpressionism/education/insights_national.html Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

shearing the rams 

D. H. Souter artist and journalist who drew for the Bulletin describes Roberts in Smith (2001, pp 121) as a successful artist with entrée to Government House and was on the dinning list of most people, and is quoted as saying ‘you don’t usually sell your stuff to people who rent cottages at seventeen and six a week: Business, my dear boy, business’. On the 24th of October 1889 the Premier of New South Wales Sir Henry Parkes delivered a speech which led to the Australian Federation on the 1st of January 1901. It was held strategically in a community based School of Art (Candy, 1994). In the same year Parkes announced the promotion of the true Federation of the colonies in Melbourne (Martin, 1974), and in August of the same year The Heidelberg Impressionist, led by Tom Roberts held their highly successful 9 by 5 Impressionist Exhibition at Mr Buxton’s Gallery in Melbourne, this is relevant, because according to the Argus March 28, 1901, Mr Buxton held the meeting for ‘The Commonwealth House of Representatives’ listing the candidates for Ballarat. Mr Maloney, M.L.A. was a candidate (Maloney, 1901) and also a close friend of Roberts, whom he traveled on his first tour of Europe in 1881. Parkes was also traveling and campaigning at this time in America, throughout England and Scotland in support of trans-Pacific steamship service and the relaxation of import duties on wool (Martin, 1974), and Parkes as Candy (1994) puts it, was the pioneer of culture, founder of the Mechanics Institute’s and Schools of Arts in Australia, so it stands to reason Roberts political preference lent towards liberal values, and Roberts learnt early that ‘the very existence of art had always depended upon the existence of a privileged class’ (Smith, 2001.pp131).
On Roberts return to Australia in 1885 there was an economic down tern and a collapse in land revenue, so new tariffs were proposed on producers to meet the financial crisis, and as a result, Parkes led a group of anti-protectionist against the proposal, and formed his fourth ministry with a campaign ‘good government and commercial freedom’ (Martin, 1974), and it was at this time Roberts set up a studio in Melbourne and began painting outdoors and started preliminary sketches for the Shearing the Rams, which was completed in 1890. Shearing the Rams reflects nobility in hard work and labor for the overall good of the country, because a prosperous economy means survival for the artist, and Tom Roberts was determined to create an image of Australia that helped meat returns for the overall economy. See figure 3.

Figure 4. The artists’ camp (1886) Tom Roberts
oil on canvas
46.0 x 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1943 http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/australianimpressionism/education/insights_ssites.html

artists camp

As Roberts was a natural born leader he set up the artist’s camp of 1886 at Box Hill and invited Fredrick McCubbin (1855-1917) and Louis Abrahams (1852-1903) to join him, and in 1887 Authur Streeton joined Roberts at Mentone and Eaglemont near Heidelberg, and then in 1888 he met Charles Conder (1868-1909) and they painted together at Coogee Beach. So it was Roberts, Streeton and Conder that eventually laid the foundations of the Heidelberg School (Sayers, 2001), but Roberts was an earlier expatriate that had instigated the revolt in his early years at the National Gallery School for the over use of classical tradition and for the recognition of an Australian School of Art (Smith, 2001) which was not steeped in secular values as Parkes set out to change with his education reforms (Martin, 1974). So Roberts set out to reflect with his colleagues, a mild bohemian in style, and yet moralistically safe Arcadian subject matter that was neutrally nationalistic.

Figure 5. Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York (Later King George V), Tom Roberts. May 9, 1901, 1903, oil on canvas. On permanent loan to the Parliament of Australia from the British Royal Collection http://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Parliament_House_Art_Collection/Tom_Roberts_Big_Picture Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

first opening of parliment

In 1901 Australian Federation celebrations in Melbourne took place and the Chinese eagerly participated in the city-wide celebrations (Parliament, chp 1), and although Smith (2001) tells us that Roberts was uncertain as to the direction of his art after 1903 he did not change his way, even though some of his colleagues were working for the Bulletin on a ‘White Australia’ policy. When he had completed the Opening of the First Commonwealth Parliament commissioned by the Duke of Cornwall and York, which came to be called the ‘Big Picture’, it was awarded him under the condition he painted it back in England where he was provided a studio by the Imperial Institute, which housed a number of departments and exhibition galleries used to promote trade and research (The Open University, 2014). So it becomes clear that Roberts is painting to a dictatorship of imperial value.

 

 

 

Figure 6. Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper’s Creek, Sunday evening, 21st April 1861, by John Longstaff, 1907. Oil on canvas, 285.7 x 433.0 cm. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Longstaff_-_Arrival_of_Burke,_Wills_and_King,_1861.jpg Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

berke and wills

 

 

Figure 7. Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay E. Phillips Fox, 1902. Fox, E. Phillips (Emanuel Phillips), 1865-1915. National Gallery of Victoria http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/19807534?selectedversion=NBD7890379 Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

landing of captain cook

 
   

John Longstaff (1861-1941) and Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865-1915) were also commissioned to paint historical paintings under the condition they were painted in England, and the money was donated by Dr William Gilbee, through the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria in 1886, which dictated what was to be commissioned. The melancholy paintings were of Longstaffs Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at Coopers Creek, Sunday Evening, 21st April, 1861, and Fox’s, The Landing of Captain Cook (Smith, 2001), which depicts national heroism and liberal sacrifice. But it was after Roberts completion of the Big Picture when he questioned his direction, because Academia did not endear to him recognition by the Royal Academy after they secured the exhibition of the Big Picture, this may have been because of Roberts association with the Bulletin, and Souters (Bulletin) comments about Roberts being the sole Society Bohemian that sips champagne and cracks jokes with titled personage, that formed themselves into a ‘select cult where brains were the only qualification and bluff was a goodly proportion of the entrance fee’ (Smith, 2001.pp121-4), but Roberts kept alliance with the Imperial Institute, as is noted in his involvement in the Australian exhibition of the Imperial Conference of 1911.

Roberts organized the Australian artist’s reception at the Australian and New Zealand Imperial Conference in 1911 (Smith, 2001), which was responsible for the Renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance put forward by the British, though this was opposed by all of the colonial countries including Australia, because they were determined to keep the colonies white (Gowen, 1980), they succeeded because of the efforts in propaganda put forward by the impressionist movement aimed at promoting fashionable orientalism for the acceptance of anti-protectionist free trade that ultimately provided a cheaper work force and financial security. Artists were persuaded by the National Galleries in Australia to promote nationalism, which provided imperialist with a population keen to work and fight for the good of the nation. This movement was compatible with the sentiments of Sir Henry Parkes on his tours of America and Europe, encouraging free trade and the Federation of the colonies in the early 1880’s. He was at the time noticed by royalty, politicians, guilds, companies, and most notably, for the argument of the artists and the Heidelberg connection; expatriate Australians (Martin, 1974).

 

The Heidelberg school led by Tom Roberts, were the first distinct group to be recognized as a group that served to patronize Australia as expatriates. They claimed to be free in subject matter and technique, but proved to be a manifesto of European Impressionism cultivated to gain popularity in order to promote neo-romantic nationalism. They were dissatisfied with the National Gallery School and had to become expatriates in order to become patriots in Australia, and later found that working under the dictatorship of the National Gallery School was a matter of survival in a time of economic hardship and Roberts understood that artists would only survive under a stable economy. Those that became successful in Europe reflected a neo-rococo frivolity not yet acceptable in Australian society of Arcadian moral value, and Roberts was sympathetic to the nationalistic value. So Roberts instigated the Heidelberg School in order to nurture imperialistic patriotism and succeeded in promoting nationalism that drew off popular culture that reflected the values of Sir Henry Parkes (1815-1896). The Liberal party today draws on the same values that reflect the Heidelberg era and use images of nobility, in working Australians in advertising and promotional campaigns to win favor for economic nationalism, which only really serves the commercial elite and those that promote them.

 

 

 

Figure 8. Sir Henry Parkes 1892. Tom Roberts (1856–1931)oil on canvas
On loan from the Art Gallery of South Australia http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/exhibition_subsite_moshow_portrait.php?portrait=271 Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

 sir henry parkes

 

Referrence:

Chapter One: Federation and the Geographies of Whiteness http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/APF/monographs/Within_Chinas_Orbit/Chapterone Retrieved 8th of August 2014.

Clark, J. 1992. ‘Women artists and the Heidelberg era’, Art and Australia, Vol 30 No 2 (pp.184-186) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Clark, J. 1985.’The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition 1889’in Clark, J. & Whitelaw, B. Golden Summers-Heidelberge and Beyond (pp.112-117). International Culture Corporation of Australia, Melbourne.

Candy, Philip. C. 1994. Pioneering Culture: Machanic’s Institutes and Schools of Arts in Australia. Queensland University of Technology and John Laurent Griffith University. Adelaide Auslib Press.

Martin A.W., 1974. Parkes, Sir Henry (1815-1896). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/parkes-sir-henry-4366

Wotherspoon, Garry 2010. The Bulletin http://dictionaryofsydney.org/citation/45615 . Retrieved 30th of July 2014.

The Open University. Royal Archives, Windsor. The Imperial Institute. http://www8.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/content/imperial-institute

Gowen, Robert Joseph, 1980. British Legerdemain at the 1911 Imperial Conference: The Dominians, Defence Planning, and the Renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. East Carolina University. The Journal of Modern History, Vol 52. No3, Sep. 1980.http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1876925?uid=3737536&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21104542165313 Retrieved 31st of July 2014.

Rogers G.A.F. 1920. The Arts Club and its Members. Truslove and Hanson, LTD. London. https://archive.org/stream/artsclubitsmembe00roge#page/n7/mode/2up Retrieved on the 5th of August 2014.

Freer Gallery of Art 2014 The Peacock Room Comes to America. Smithsonian Institution
http://www.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/current/PeacockRoom.asp

Smith, Bernard 2001. Exodus 1881-1919: Australian Painting 1788-2000 Chapter 5. Oxford University Press. South Melbourne Victoria.

MR. MALONEY, M.L.A., AT BUXTON’S GALLERY. (1901, March 28). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 7. Retrieved August 6, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10542836

 

Biblography:

Art Renewal Centre. BASTIEN-LEPAGE, JULES (1848-1884) http://www.artrenewal.org/pages/artist.php?artistid=269 Retreveived 24 of July 2014.

Clark, J & Whitelaw, B 1986, Golden Summers – Heidelberg and beyond, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Corbett, Arthur and Pugh, Ann 1976. Russell, Sir Peter Nicol (1816-1905). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6 (MUP) http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/russell-sir-peter-nicol-4527 Retrieved 4th of August 2014.

Eagle, M. and Jones,J. God in Nature: Portraying the Country. In A Story of Australian Painting (pp. 52-69). Sydney: MacMillian.

Helen Topliss, ‘Roberts, Thomas William (Tom) (1856-1931)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, AustralianNational university, htt//adb.anu.edu.au/biography/Roberts-thomas-william-tom-8229/text14405, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 8 August 2014. http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/australianimpressionism/education/insights_ssites.html

Katherine Harper Ashton, George Rossi (1857–?) This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979 http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ashton-george-rossi-5654

Lane, T 2007, ‘The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition – The Challenge of the Sketch‘, in Lane,T (ed) 2007 Australian Impressionism, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

SIR HENRY PARKES AT COOMA. (1891, June 1). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW :1842-1954), p. 6. Retrieved July 30, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13826502

The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler. University of Glasgow. http://www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk/jmw/ Retrieved 23 of July 2014.

Images:

Figure 1. On the banks of the river near Heidelberg. Tom Roberts. 5 x9 Oil on board. http://img.aasd.com.au/89158940.jpg

Figure 2. ‘curious little games’ Whistler 1884. 5 by 8 panel sketches. https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS291h9uqrVbEWZv-4qJB36iRLUiedz1oWVnSl0eZznmEu-ZC1lCQ

Figure 3. Shearing the rams. 1890. Tom Roberts. Oil on canvas on composition board
122.4 x 183.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1932 http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/australianimpressionism/education/insights_national.html Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

Figure 4. The artists’ camp (1886) Tom Roberts
oil on canvas
46.0 x 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1943 http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/australianimpressionism/education/insights_ssites.html

Figure 5. Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York (Later King George V), Tom Roberts. May 9, 1901, 1903, oil on canvas. On permanent loan to the Parliament of Australia from the British Royal Collection http://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Parliament_House_Art_Collection/Tom_Roberts_Big_Picture Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

Figure 6. Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper’s Creek, Sunday evening, 21st April 1861, by John Longstaff, 1907. Oil on canvas, 285.7 x 433.0 cm. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Longstaff_-_Arrival_of_Burke,_Wills_and_King,_1861.jpg Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

Figure 7. Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay E. Phillips Fox, 1902. Fox, E. Phillips (Emanuel Phillips), 1865-1915. National Gallery of Victoria http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/19807534?selectedversion=NBD7890379 Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

Figure 8. Sir Henry Parkes 1892. Tom Roberts (1856–1931)oil on canvas
On loan from the Art Gallery of South Australia http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/exhibition_subsite_moshow_portrait.php?portrait=271 Retrieved 7th of August 2014.

 

 

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