Tom Roberts was a pioneer of plein-air impressionism in Australia, and became known after his death as ‘the father of Australian landscape painting’.
Born in England, Roberts moved to Melbourne with his mother and siblings after the death of his father in 1868. While a student at the National Gallery of Victoria School, Roberts met Frederick McCubbin and Louis Abrahams, with whom he would later found the first of the artists’ camps. In 1881 he returned to England to study at the Royal Academy schools in London and to travel through Europe. Roberts returned to Australia in 1885, full of what he had learned from his European experience. With his friends McCubbin and Abrahams he established an artists’ camp at Box Hill, from which would develop the Heidelberg School. In 1901 Roberts was commissioned to paint a huge picture of the opening of the first federal parliament in Melbourne. As part of his contract he was required to produce many life-sized portraits. This took a great toll on his energy and required a vast amount of travel before it was finally completed in London in 1903. He then visited Holland and Italy, returning to England just before the outbreak of WW1, in which he served as an orderly in a military hospital. He gained a modest reputation as a painter in London before finally returning to Australia in 1923 to settle in Victoria. The rest of his life was spent painting, mostly in Victoria, until his death in 1931.
Her Majesty’s Mail, O’Meara’s Skipton Road c1889 is an early impression of a Cobb and Co coach, a subject Roberts was to develop further with Bailed up in 1895.