Tom Roberts
An Australian Native  
Unidentified Lady in Pink Dress

Cat 112

Mrs St Vincent Welch
cat 295

Portraiture 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.

The 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.

The “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.

Mrs 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.