Arriving in Australia as a
13 year old in 1869, Tom Roberts trained at the Artisans School of
Design East Collingwood before attending the National Gallery of
Victoria School under Thomas Clark and Louis Buvelot.
He pursued further studies at the Royal Academy London and..Paris
in the early 1880's.
The Wood splitters is one of the first Australian paintings to
depict the activities of ordinary rural labourers. Roberts
was heavily influenced by the French painters of the Barbizon
school as well as Jules Bastien Lepage, whose work extolled the
innate dignity of the rural labourers and whose method
involved sketching activities directly at the scene. This is
also one of the works made by Roberts from sketches drawn at
the camp that he and fellow artist Fred McCubbin established in Box
In this close up view, three men are shown splitting and
stacking timber for the preparation of charcoal. Roberts has
used a cool palette to capture the eucalypts and the misty winter
light. The painting presages such grand works as
Shearing the rams and The Breakaway, where Roberts takes the
depiction of men at work almost to a reverential level.
The Wood Splitters was stolen from the Gallery in 1978. It
was recovered at Carlingsford Park, Sydney the following year
- only after a ransom had been paid.