TOM ROBERTS - WOMEN'S PORTRAITS
An Australian Native
Unidentified Lady in Pink Dress
St Vincent Welch
earned Tom Roberts his living, forty percent of his oeuvre being in a genre which he held in low regard. Yet his
face-making resulted in some of his most striking achievements, as is
evident in this contrasting pair in which his “wondrous soft way with
women” is apparent.
adopted title “An Australian Native” is appropriate for both the
human subject and the surrounding foliage. “Native” meant the
Australian-born who were asserting themselves. Roberts had been employed
to arrange the décor in a photographic studio and the staffage in this
portrait demonstrates his promotion of gums.
“Mrs Welch” is in pastel, a medium he favoured for women for its
tonal warmth. A preparatory pencil sketch has her around the opposite
way, her face unveiled, and no space between her arm and torso or
between her umbrella and hem. The changes indicate the thought Roberts
paid to even informal depictions.
Welch was in line with
a run of small-scale, yet generally full-length portraits which Roberts
completed during the second half of the 1890s. This survey of famous or
familial figures celebrated the native-born as much as did his
landscapes and subject paintings.