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Tom Roberts Exhibition, NGA

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by Sue W (subscribe)
New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Event: -
Shear the Rams at the National Gallery this Summer
This Summer the National Gallery of Australia will be holding the Tom Roberts exhibition where visitors can experience his large scale paintings depicting Australian life in the pre-Federation years. The exhibition will showcase 130 works including paintings, pastels, drawings, prints and sculpture from over Roberts' working life, including Shearing the Rams, below.

National Art Gallery of Australia, Tom Roberts 2015, Art Exhibition, Canberra 2015, Canberra 2016
Shearing the Rams (1890), Tom Roberts. Oil on canvas on composition board. 122.4 cm × 183.3 cm. Source: Wikapedia


Many years ago, too many to count, I sat in my high school art class and learnt about how Tom Roberts had represented a time of great change in Australia and how he helped create our visual national identity. It is only now, years later, that I can appreciate what I learnt.

In particular, if you have been to Parliament House and seen what is commonly called "The Big Picture" by Tom Roberts, it is something that you don't easily forget. It has a much longer name, see the painting below, however Roberts himself nicknamed it as the scale of the painting is over 3m x 5m in size. The painting depicts the opening of the first Parliament of Australia at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne on 9 May 1901.

National Art Gallery of Australia, Tom Roberts 2015, Art Exhibition, Canberra 2015, Canberra 2016
The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York (later H.M. King George V), May 9, 1901. Source: Wikapedia The Big Picture.


The painting included 269 separate portraits of prominent figures, which took him two and a half years to complete. Rumours at the time suggested that Roberts had been paid by some of people in the painting to make them appear more prominent.
Roberts also honoured Henry Parkes, who had died five years before by adding an artwork of Parkes above the dais, which was not present on the day.

The "Big Picture" has been hanging in Parliament House since 1988, until now. It will be a slow process for the NGA to move this historical work which was originally painted on three flax panels and has needed to be restored over the years. It will then join the rest of the Tom Roberts artworks at the NGA for this exhibition.

National Art Gallery of Australia, Tom Roberts 2015, Art Exhibition, Canberra 2015, Canberra 2016
Image: 'A break away!' (detail) painted at Corowa, New South Wales, and Melbourne, 1891, oil on canvas 137.3 x 167.8 cm Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Elder Bequest Fund, 1899. Source: NGA Facebook.


Tickets are for sale through Ticketek and you can buy a ticket, or make a day out of it and include a High Tea or Bushman's Lunch in the Tom Roberts Tea Room at the Gallery. You can also order a picnic to enjoy in the Sculpture Garden outside. See here for more details.

National Art Gallery of Australia, Tom Roberts 2015, Art Exhibition, Canberra 2015, Canberra 2016
One of the 26 sculptures in the NGA Sculpture Garden. (Clement MEADMORE Virginia 1970, Purchased 1973 © Clement Meadmore/VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy). Source: NGA website


This exhibition is held over the Summer period (December 4th - March 28th) and will be an enjoyable way to escape the heat and to appreciate the sheer scale and detail of Tom Roberts paintings in real life, as they were intended.

National Art Gallery of Australia, Tom Roberts 2015, Art Exhibition, Canberra 2015, Canberra 2016
After your visit, why not explore the rest of the National Gallery of Australia, including having a break at the popular Gallery Café downstairs.

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Why? Tom Roberts paintings to enjoy in the one exhibition!
When: 10am - 5pm (except Christmas day). It is paid parking in the underground carpark, however if you stay less than 3 hours you can validate your ticket at the NGA cloakroom for free parking.
Phone: 02 6240 6411
Where: National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Parkes Place, Parkes, Canberra ACT 2600
Cost: See website for pricing and options
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