Thursday, 3 August 2017

Tom Roberts – Shearing the Rams (1890)

Tom Roberts – Shearing the Rams – 1890

With the looming 1891 Shearers Strike shearing and shearers are in the news and Roberts' iconic portrayal of shearers at work has a temporal if not deliberate connection to the militant shearers and their demands for better pay and conditions including an Eight Hour working day. Although the strike was defeated the shearers union grew stronger and became an important part of the push for what soon became the Australian Labor Party.

Responding to a critic's dismissal of his painting in the Melbourne newspaper the Argus of 4 July 1980 p. 10. Tom Roberts argued:

If I had been a poet instead of a worker with the brush, I should have described the scattered flocks on sunlit plains and gum-covered ranges, the coming of spring, the gradual massing of the sheep towards that one centre, the woolshed through which the accumulated growth and wealth of the year is carried ; the shouts of the men, the galloping of horses and the barking of dogs as the thousands are driven, half seen, through the hot dust cloud, to the yards ; then the final act, and the dispersion of the denuded sheep ; but being circumscribed by my art it was only possible to take one view, to give expression to one portion of all this. 

So, lying on piled up wool-bales, and hearing and seeing the troops come pattering into their pens, the quick running of the wool-carriers, the screwing of the presses, the   subdued hum of hard, fast working, and the rhythmic click of the shears, the whole lit warm with the reflection of Australian sunlight, it seemed that I had there the best expression of my subject, a subject noble enough and worthy enough if I could express the meaning and spirit-of strong masculine labour, the patience of the animals whose year's growth is being stripped from them for man's use, and the great human interest 
of the whole scene.

I would only wish to add, of what the writer says that art should be of all times, not of one time, of all places, not of one 
place, that I believe it should rather be taken conversly—that by making art the perfect expression of one time and one place, it becomes art for all times and all places—

Yours, &.C., TOM ROBERTS

Tom Roberts plink-a-plong 1893

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