Shortlist year: 2016

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Thames & Hudson


Julie Cotter examines the portraits by the Australian Impressionist artist Tom Roberts focusing upon the extraordinary range of subjects, their lives and their historical significance. The book places to the fore a body of work that comprises some 280 portraits representing approximately 35 per cent of Robertss total output. Roberts explores the diversity of Australian identity in his depiction of members of Sydney and Melbourne society as well as portraits of pastoralists, farmhands, pearl divers and itinerants. The book culminates in a chapter devoted to Australia's major history painting of the opening of the first Federal Parliament.

About the author

Julie Cotter

Julie Cotter is an art historian specialising in portraiture and the Australian Impressionists. Julie is committed to exploring and promoting the study of Australian history through portraiture. In researching Tom Roberts's portraits she travelled to the many Australian and international sites of production of the works, particularly the remote areas that attracted Roberts. By locating the historical relevance of subjects she hopes to engage readers in the stories of those who participated in the construction of a contemporary Australian identity. She lectures at Federation University, has presented documentaries on Australian art and received her PhD from Monash University in 2011

Judges’ comments

Tom Roberts (1856–1931) is so well known for his iconic, impressionistic Australian scenes that his skilful portraiture has been neglected. This book sets the record straight by delving into this extraordinary oeuvre, which included sitters from society, politics, everyday life and Indigenous Australians. Born in Dorchester, the inspirational pastoral setting of Thomas Hardy's novels, Roberts and fellow artists Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton established the naturalist 'Heidelberg School' in Melbourne.

In her well researched, scholarly but highly readable book, Julie Cotter gives insights into Roberts movement away from traditional portraitures, his emotional interaction with sitters, and astute scrutiny of their inner lives. The author draws attention to his arresting wooden panel paintings, and depiction of women in transition from Victorian modesty to rising independence and achievement.