Shearing the Rams by Tom Roberts

Shearing the Rams is one of the most-loved and best-known paintings in Australia. It is considered a masterpiece of Australian Impressionism and an excellent icon of the popular art history of the country. Painted by Tom Roberts in 1890, the mesmerising artwork highlights the pastoral life and work. It shows sheep shearers doing their work in a timber shearing shed. Experts say that it exemplifies the emergence of a national identity well-defined via heroic rural activity and the economic significance of the wool industry.


The work will soon be displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria, alongside other important works by renowned Australian artists. The exhibition will show these works in fresh contexts by exploring the influence of international influences, personal relationships and the significance of place on the course of the movement.



The History behind Shearing the Rams


Tom Roberts, born in England in 1856, moved to Australia in 1869 and settled in Collingwood, a working-class neighbourhood of Melbourne. After completing his studies in Europe, he returned to Australia and introduced plein-air painting and impressionism to the country, greatly influencing Australian art. His informal, evocative, and naturalistic manner, which reflected the hues and flora of the Australian country, helped him and other like-minded painters develop the Heidelberg School, the first distinctly Australian school of painting.


Roberts himself was a fervent supporter of native subjects and created numerous classic works of art depicting rural labour as well as the mood and ambience of the bush. Bushranging, droving, and shearing were examples of agricultural and pastoral activities that represented the fledgling nation to him. Australia’s prosperity came from the wool business, and shearers are viewed as a sort of folk hero. He experienced “the thrill and intrigue of the enormous pastoral life and labour,” according to Roberts.



The Composition


Before returning to the station for the next two shearing seasons with his canvas, Tom Roberts created perhaps 70 or 80 preliminary sketches of “the light, the atmosphere, the sheep, the men, and the job” in the spring of 1888. Based on these sketches, art historians initially assumed that most of the Shearing the Rams painting was finished in the studio. When Roberts used a piece of salvaged shed wood to clean his brushes, the NGV undertook a scientific analysis in 2006 and found that the paint there matched the paint used in the painting.


The most characteristic and picturesque of the shearers and rouseabouts served as Roberts’ models. He hired Susan Bourne, a little girl, and her sister sixpence each to stir up the dirt, evoking the ambience of the shearing era. Susan served as the model for the tar boy in the painting’s centre, the only character who looked directly at the viewer. This painting is one of those artworks that enhanced the importance of arts and culture in Australia.


Roberts purposefully decided to represent hand shearing in Shearing the Rams rather than the machine shearing that began to appear in Australian shearing shed in the late 1880s because he thought it gave the picture greater depth. 



End Note


Today, Shearing the Rams by Tom Roberts is seen as the idealised depiction of pastoral life in Australia. Roberts contributed significantly to the growth of this idea with his impressive aptitude for self-promotion. He was pleased with himself for travelling across the nation to work on the painting for months in a remote shed in Brocklesby, close to Corowa, New South Wales.