Wood splitters, Tom Roberts
  • Artist
    Tom Roberts
  • Born
    1856
  • Died
    1931
  • Title
    Wood splitters
  • Date of Production
    1886
  • Medium
    oil on canvas
  • Dimensions
    61.4 x 92.3 cm
  • Credit Details
    Bequest of J.R. Hartley, 1961

Tom Roberts

Wood splitters

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 Hill.

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.